By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Another bad news/good news story dominates the Israeli media. The bad news: last Tuesday Israel’s Supreme Court sentenced the former prime minister of Israel Ehud Olmert to 18 months imprisonment for taking bribes. The sentence was reduced from the six years imposed by a lower court. The fact that a prime minister of Israel can be proven to have taken bribes is shocking.
The good news is that Israel has a legal system and a judiciary that pursues justice without being inhibited by the prominence of the accused. Olmert isn’t the first significant politician to go to jail, though he is the first prime minister who may end up there. A former minister of finance has served some four years for corruption, a former president, Moshe Katsav, is serving a seven-year sentence for rape and a former interior minister, Arieh Deri, is back in public life after having spent a few years in jail for misappropriating funds.
Bad news in the good news: some commentators believe that the Supreme Court was unduly lenient with Olmert and others. The defenders of the court insist that it acted on incontrovertible evidence refusing to hear the rumours and innuendos flying around. By implication it thus censored the lower court that imposed the harsher sentence.
More bad news: the above mentioned Deri after having served his sentence and observed a “cooling off period” is now in the government again. Rumour has it that he’s about to be appointed to the same portfolio that he used for his criminal activities. The reason seems to be that in order to stay in government the prime minister needs Deri’s party (Shas), so expediency wins over moral values and common sense.
In addition to the courts of law in Israel there’s also the court of public opinion where some public figures are sentenced without trial. The latest case is that of Silvan Shalom who, after some quarter-of-a-century, has now withdrawn from public life. The last ministerial post he held was that of interior minister that Deri may now inherit. The reasons for Shalom’s resignation are rumours of sexual harassment of women who worked for him. Whether or not the matter will come to court, he has obviously implied that the public has a case and, therefore, he got out, perhaps hoping to avoid a trial.
Silvan Shalom is by no means the only public figure who has had to resign because of allegations or convictions of sexual misconduct. Other men with power in parliament, the police and the army have been accused of similar crimes. And Katsav is still in jail.
The bad news is that, according to statistics, Israel has more corruption that some two dozen countries around the world. The good news is that there’re at least a hundred countries where corruption is much more prevalent.
A cartoon I like shows a young boy telling his father that he’s contemplating a life of crime. Father asks: “Government or the private sector?” And adds: “Personally, I suggest government – they never go to jail.” Israel’s Supreme Court has tried to show that it’s not true. Its critics imply that crime is still safer than in the private sector.
Israel rightly claims to be a Jewish state. For some this means a state with a Jewish majority that behaves like other majorities; for others it means that it should aspire to live by Jewish values. Those of the latter persuasion have reason to be sad today.