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To Hell with Principles

Israel, like any democracy worthy of the name, has laws in place to ensure that those seeking public office are persons of integrity, who foster the values upon which the State was founded.

Our Declaration of Independence includes the vision that the Jewish State “will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel”.

Given that objective, our statute book purposefully includes legislation intended to bar the access to power of those who do not support and embody the ethical standards to which our country aspires.

Among other stipulations, Clause 7A of Israel’s Basic Law states that “a person shall not be a candidate for election to the Knesset, if … the actions of the person, expressly or by implication, include … Incitement to racism“.

Such a law was formulated to ensure that people like Itamar Ben-Gvir would never sit in the Knesset or be members of the government. However, Prime Minister elect, Benjamin Netanyahu, is committed to emending that Clause, so that incitement to racism will no longer be considered a bar to holding office.

No less problematic is the case of Shas leader Aryeh Deri, who served twenty-two months in jail after being convicted of having taken bribes while serving as Interior Minister.

Earlier this year, Deri was found guilty of tax evasion, and was given a suspended 12-month prison sentence and fined 180,000 NIS in a plea bargain.

In order for him to sit in government once again, Israel needs to amend its criminal code, so that an elected official who was convicted of an offence, but was only given a suspended sentence, is not covered by the moral turpitude clause that would have barred him from holding public office.

One might well ask what a twice-convicted criminal is doing heading a so-called “religious” political party? However, I digress. In any event, how could such a person be chosen to be Interior Minister having previous been convicted of bribery while holding that same office?

Two and a half thousand years ago, before the destruction of the First Temple, the prophet Isaiah criticized the political leadership of the day with the words: “Your rulers are rebels, confederate with thieves; they love bribes and run after gifts.” (1:23) – and that long before anyone had even thought of champagne and cigars!

Re-writing the Basic Law to allow racists and convicted criminals to take office ill befits a country, whose founding fathers intended it to embody the values promulgated “by the prophets of Israel”.

However, Benjamin Netanyahu seems to be only interested in becoming prime minister once again, and perhaps wriggling his way out of the charges against him for deception, breach of trust, and receiving bribes.

King Louis XV, who was indifferent to what would happen after him, is attributed with having declared: “Après moi, le déluge” (‘After me, the flood’).

Isaiah, who prophesied that Israel would be “a light unto the nations” (42:6) and that “God’s word will come forth from Jerusalem” (2:3), would be appalled by what is happening in Israel. Much of the electorate and world Jewry feel likewise.

One is left with the impression that Netanyahu is not concerned about the damage that he will cause both to Israel and to its relationship with world Jewry. When personal survival is at stake, one can dispense with principles.

About the Author
Made aliyah from the UK in 1985, am a former president of the Israel Council of Reform Rabbis and am currently rabbi of Kehilat Yonatan in Hod Hasharon, Israel.