The dramatic conviction of Moshe Katsav exposed the gravity of the former
Although the guilty verdict was a powerful proof that
nobody is above the law (as noted in these pages by Liat Collins in “Justice for
all...” on Sunday), Israelis must not kid themselves that all is well. Katsav’s
crimes are merely the latest in a long list of serious misdemeanors committed by
those in public office. Moreover, unless the public demands more from its
leaders, people will find themselves sleepwalking into a future with little
The list of high-profile figures involved in serious crime is
shamefully long. The police enquiry into Katsav, which began in the summer of
2006, was shortly followed by an investigation into Ehud Olmert’s conduct during
his time as finance minister, sparking a chain of events which culminated in his
resignation as prime minister and the filing of corruption charges against him.
Another former finance minister, Avraham Hirchson, was sentenced to five years
in jail for embezzlement in 2009, while former justice minister Haim Ramon was
convicted of indecently assaulting a female soldier in 2007.
Far too many
officials apparently view public office as an opportunity for personal gain
rather than societal change. One can only conclude that the caliber of our
leaders is woefully poor. This is surprising, given that this country is lauded
as an engine for innovation, a hub of creativity and a leader in important
global industries. The cache of Nobel Prizes awarded to Israelis and the
well-worn “start-up nation” tag are evidence that we boast an impressive pool of
gifted people. Yet although these individuals can be found in business,
industry, the military and academia, the cream of our talent is rarely to be
found in the Knesset.
SADLY, IT appears that the best of the best are
reluctant to assume the leadership of the country at a time when it faces stern
challenges to its security, identity and democracy.
vocations provide more lucrative alternatives, there is certainly no financial
barrier to entering parliament, with members of the Knesset enjoying a
relatively generous deal. Yet top businessmen, entrepreneurs and academics, who
have already enjoyed successful careers, are hardly beating down the doors to
enter the political world.
High achievers succeed in environments which
encourage innovation and creativity. In contrast, our political system maintains
a status quo where mere survival is usually the limited ambition of most
governments. While the private sector fosters leadership, imagination and
purpose, the country’s political echelon is paralyzed by a selfserving
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin recently lamented the lack of true
leaders in parliament. He compared today’s leaders to a blindly obedient dog,
endlessly attempting to curry favor with the people and thus obtain power,
regardless of the ideological price or negative impact on the greater
Yet the solution is not only to be found in replacing political
hacks with individuals of substance, it is also systemic.
country’s outdated political framework allows the government to govern without
the straitjacket of a patchwork coalition, we are unlikely to make much progress
diplomatically, or in solving the myriad of issues continually polarizing
society. It is hardly an attractive environment for those with ambition,
efficiency and achievement.
Unless the gap is bridged, expect our finest
to continue making their mark outside public office, sitting largely on the
sidelines of national debate.
Katsav’s conviction is a reminder of the
extent to which power can be abused if left unchecked and in the wrong hands.
Some have emphasized that the judges’ verdict reaffirms Israel’s commitment to
equality before the law.
It is no more than a crumb of
Until we can take pride in the achievements of our political
elite rather than their downfall, we must ask how much longer we can afford to
wait for a new cadre of leaders.
The writer is a communications
professional based in Tel Aviv.