Emotions were mixed and conflicting watching television Monday morning as Tel Aviv District Court Judge David Rozen read the verdict convicting former prime minister Ehud Olmert of taking bribes in the Holyland case.
There was anger that the man who led the country, including into two wars, was – as the court has now proven – a corrupt politician.
There was sadness at watching the mighty fall. There was frustration that it seems so many of our leaders are so flawed. There was disappointment that these are our leaders.
There is, at the same time, satisfaction knowing that the system works, and that there are indeed checks on the most powerful.
There is even something to be proud about in living in a country where, indeed, no one is above the law – even the mightiest.
That pride, however, is tarnished when considering that we now have one former president in prison for rape, a former prime minister now likely on his way to jail for bribery, a former chief rabbi also accused of bribery and fraud, a former IDF chief of staff facing legal problems, numerous mayors facing indictments and a string of former MKs and ministers who have spent time behind bars.
Receiving a real-life reminder every once in a while about equality before the law is one thing, but this is going overboard.
No, this is not exactly the ideal Zion that your grandmother dreamed of, that your ancestors prayed for or that your friends fought – and some of them died – to preserve.
But there you have it: Israel model 2014, warts and all.
When Holyland prosecutor Yonatan Tadmor made comments to the press following the verdict, he seemed – whether by design or not – to be channeling David Ben-Gurion’s famous line about IDF officers: “Every Hebrew mother shall know that she has placed her son’s fate in the hands of commanders worthy of it.”
Only, Tadmor’s version of that expression went like this: “Everyone who takes or gives bribes should know from now on that even if he works in the dark, nothing lasts forever.”
Talk about lowering the bar.
Yet there was something almost as reassuring in Tadmor’s words as there were in Ben-Gurion’s. Just as parents need to know that the children they send to the army are in the hands of good commanders, so too do the country’s citizens need to know that their leaders are accountable, that there are rules and regulations that all must follow, even the most powerful and the most wealthy.
Parents will not send their kids to the army if they don’t trust the officers; the country will not be livable if the citizens can’t trust their leaders. Olmert, whose decision to bomb the Syrian nuclear facility in 2007 will always be remembered to his credit, was chased out of office – and now convicted – because of corruption. The system works; dishonest leaders will be found out and purged.
That message is not only an important one to send to the country’s rank-and-file, but also to its future leaders. The eyes of the country were on the Tel Aviv District Court on Monday morning, including the eyes of up-and-coming politicians who must have been sobered – and hopefully influenced – by the sight of someone who had been raised so high, now brought so low.
One of Israel’s strengths is its capacity for self-examination and self-criticism, because only a society that can examine and criticize itself, that can look itself squarely in the mirror, can then change and improve. Monday’s verdict is such a mirror.
That’s the good news: that this country has a high standard for its leaders. And the bad news? The bad news is that so many of our leaders – unable to resist a degree of temptation that most of us will never have to face – can’t live up to those high standards.
The Holyland. Never was a building project more inaptly named.