Israeli media and society in general like to use the phrase medina metukenet,
which can be loosely translated as “a well-run, law-abiding country.” This
phrase is frequently used with reference to Western countries, often with the
object of contrasting, implicitly or explicitly, between Israel and these
supposed paragons of civic virtue. Immigrants from Western countries also
frequently indulge in this kind of comparison, albeit using different
One of the champions in the medinot metukanot
Great Britain. However, the Brits have had a bad week, providing considerable
further evidence that the former global empire and mandatory power in this
country and the Mother of Parliaments is not merely NOT a role model for
aspiring “well-run countries” but is rather a corrupt and fraudridden society in
rapid and potentially terminal decline.
However, and in fairness, I must
add that there is nothing unique, or even special, about the issues that
dominated the mainstream media news headlines this week in the UK.
all exist in other countries, often in even greater measure.
been directly exposed to the British developments, I will relate to them,
leaving other model nations for another day.
Three entirely different
stories of widespread and/or deeply entrenched criminality and/or corruption
chased each other across the print, screen and virtual headlines in the space of
a few days.
First up was the kind of common, or garden, expose of the
corrupt culture of one of Britain’s largest banks, namely Barclays.
BBC’s Panorama investigative program shone a bright light onto the bank and its
rescue from nationalization by the government in the darkest days of the
financial crisis of 2008. It revealed that the rescuer was not merely a very
rich scion of the ruling family of Abu Dhabi, but that the legal buyer of
Barclays shares was an entity owned by the government of Abu Dhabi. This was not
what Barclays had told the public and its shareholders at the time or
Furthermore, the program claimed – and cited sources inside
and outside the bank in support – the key motivation behind this effort on the
part of the bank’s senior management was to ensure the survival of the practice
of paying hefty bonuses to the staff and totally obscene ones to the top
An exhaustive piece of financial forensic analysis revealed that
the former CEO, Bob Diamond, received a total of £120 million over his 16-year
career with the bank. Diamond was forced to resign last year when it was
revealed that Barclays had been a participant in the Libor scandal in which
leading global banks systematically rigged the London interbank offered rate,
widely considered the most important rate of interest in the global financial
But the public is sated with scandals involving banks that show
these institutions to be run not with prudence and caution, as befits
repositories of the public’s money and trust but rather as gambling joints in
which greedy and arrogant managers played with other people’s money to feather
their own nests. That perhaps explains the enthusiastic reception given to
Barclays’s new CEO, Antony Jenkins, who this week presented his new strategy for
the bank, which basically promised to return it to its roots as a solid
financial institution, while steering clear of the racy and naughty
The banks are not the only key pillar of societal functioning to
have lost the confidence of the general public – indeed, to be perceived as not
only incompetent but crooked to boot. The UK’s National Health Service was also
regarded as a model for the provision of universal health services in a
professional and empathetic framework. That the NHS is in terrible financial
trouble is not news at all, but the revelations that one regional Hospital Trust
effectively collapsed, resulting in the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of
patients – and that senior management systematically prevent their staff from
reporting or revealing these kinds of horrors when they occur and pursue those
who do with legal and monetary measures – is a disaster of a different and much
more profound sort.
But the scandal that is new, huge in size and scope,
and therefore rightfully perceived as “breathtaking,” is the one developing from
the revelations regarding the processedfood sector – primarily, so far, the meat
sector. It would appear that many products marketed as beef in fact contained
large quantities, or were entirely made from, horse meat. The scandal broke only
because some of this stuff was found to be tainted, forcing the inspectorate and
the supermarkets to withdraw the products in question.
However, it is
already clear that this steeplechase is going to be long and have many hurdles.
Already, the trail stretches to Romania and Bulgaria, which are being fingered
as the source of the problem. That may prove to be the case in the narrowest
sense, but as the public concern forces the investigation to spread, it will
encompass many companies in many countries and, so it is feared, will reveal
that fraudulent labeling is commonplace, if not actually the norm, and that the
culprits are not petty criminals but rather organized crime rings. Whether the
biggest food-producing companies were complicit and how much the giant retail
food chains and supermarkets knew are going to be key ingredients in this smelly
Your money, your health, your food. The British public, as well as
their peers across Europe, can no longer delude themselves that the institutions
that provide these key products and services can be trusted or relied on for
even the most basic issues of telling the truth and concerning themselves with
the interest and well-being of their customers. That is a systemic societal
collapse, if ever there was one.
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