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Part of the Israeli ethos is the conviction that we are different from the rest of the world - if not qualitatively, then at least quantitatively. In other words, where we can be compared to other countries, we should be at the top of the league - any league, whether it relates to positive or negative phenomena. This idea finds expression in the dictum that "The Jews are the same as everyone else, only more so." There is a widespread and deep-seated belief in this idea, which is applied to a host of issues.
The current hot topic is political and other corruption, which includes the complex issue of relations between financial clout and political power (in Hebrew, summarized under the catch-all phrase of "hon veshilton"). In this context, it is not enough to agree that there is a serious problem, or even that this problem is becoming more severe over time. Even if both of these facts are true, they are not good enough for the Israeli public. We must have the most pervasive corruption in the world and our politicians must be the most rotten on God's earth. Nothing less will do.
Since most Israelis live in a state of sublime ignorance as to what goes on in the rest of the world, other than in specific areas such as sport, stock exchanges and the weather (Where else does the morning news broadcast update on stock prices in Japan?), it is quite easy for them to jump to extreme conclusions. Several Knesset members have recently been jailed for various manifestations of corruption; the chief rabbi is also embroiled in a scandal; the Bank of Israel - the self-appointed champion of economic responsibility for the nation - is revealed, instead, as a bastion of self-serving, nest-feathering hypocrites; and so on. This constant flow of exposes drives people to two conclusions: 1) "they" are all corrupt ("we," however - whomever we happen to be - are always paragons of probity and integrity); 2) Israel is the world champion in corruption. Since most people have already been persuaded that Israel is the world champion in poverty, income disparity and other negative socioeconomic phenomena, this feature seems to fit naturally.
Fortunately, any objective survey of these issues on a global scale, or even in the context of the developed world, shows how nonsensical most of the claims are. There are very few social or economic trends in which Israel is number one, whether for good or for bad. That's tough for Jews to accept, and even tougher for anti-Semites, but there you go. Interestingly, a particular strain of this "we are the most corrupt country" refrain is prevalent among Western immigrants to Israel, many of them no doubt readers of this paper. Many of these people have idealized and often outdated views of the degree of integrity of the politicians and political systems of their countries of origin, which hardly match the grim contemporary reality - a few examples of which follow:
â€¢ UK: Since expat Brits are particularly prone to the rose-tinted nostalgia syndrome, they might like to know that Tony Blair personally, and his government as a whole, are reeling under revelations that he and it gave "honors" (i.e. awarded people fancy titles and thereby membership of the unelected, largely impotent House of Lords) in return for large donations in the form of loans to party coffers (loans don't have to be declared - donations do). The Tories - whose last term in government ended in a slew of scandals - do much the same.
â€¢ Germany: Within weeks of retiring from politics, after his election defeat, ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder took a cushy job with an energy company. A few months earlier, while still in office, he had pushed through a gas deal with Russia in which said company will play a major role.
â€¢ US: Too much to write here. Just Google any or all of the following and read as much as you can stomach: Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff, Cheney and Halliburton, Iraq reconstruction contractsâ€¦
â€¢ Italy: Makes all the others look squeaky clean. The Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, is one of the biggest businessmen in the country. His government has passed various laws protecting or helping his business interests. His own past is murky, which didn't prevent him winning the last elections, nor is any of the above blocking his imminent re-election.
What is one to make of all this? Clearly, it doesn't really matter what a country's relative ranking is in the sleaze league, if it is on the same down escalator as everyone else. The real problem is that, precisely because the problem is universal and getting worse everywhere, people everywhere are becoming increasingly cynical and disillusioned with the political process as a whole. This discourages good people from trying to change the system from within. But the only alternative to that is change from without, i.e. revolution.