The corruption conundrum

The public fail to reject politicians with checkered ethical integrity.

November 14, 2012 14:00
2 minute read.

fullknesset300. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)


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The possible return of certain public figures to the political arena raises a series of normative, socio-political, and legal questions.

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First, should we adopt a permissive approach toward convicted politicians? If not, why has the permissive approach gained currency in Israel’s public discourse? Finally, should we prohibit through legislation the return to political life of politicians who are convicted of crimes?

We believe the permissive approach ought to be rejected. The proper public norm should be that public figures who have been convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude should be considered persona non grata in government as a rule. Governmental power places many temptations before office holders. To successfully resist such temptations, one needs a strong ethical backbone. Clearly, the likelihood that a person who has erred in the past will act inappropriately in the future is higher than the likelihood of such behavior on the part of someone without a criminal record.

Second, the more senior a person becomes, the greater the likelihood that he will maintain connections to individuals who were involved in his prior criminal activities. The reelection of this person strengthens the chances that at least some of these same individuals will, once again, fill significant roles in public life, with all that this implies. Third, the reelection of a criminal teaches other politicians that they need not fear the public’s response when considering whether to act corruptly. As a result, the public exposes itself to an increased danger of corruption.

Fourth, the reelection of a criminal is likely to have a corrupting influence both on the government and on the public as a whole. It is highly doubtful that a person who has been convicted of a crime of this kind can be a positive role model for the public at large or for his subordinates. The reelection of a criminal undermines anti-corruption norms and weakens the hands of law enforcement authorities combating corruption.

Finally – and independent of everything stated above – the election of a convicted criminal is likely to hurt the public’s faith in government.

It is unclear to what extent a permissive approach has been adopted by the Israeli public. To date, this question has not been researched; nor has it been put to the test.

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