(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In Jewish tradition, a whistle- blower or an informant – known in Hebrew and Yiddish as a mosser – is someone to be shunned.
But in a law-abiding, democratic society – even in the Jewish state – a whistle-blower who exposes corruption is someone who should be honored and rewarded, say the leading figures in Israel’s legal system.
Two such whistle-blowers were honored on Wednesday in a ceremony at the President’s Residence in which they were awarded the Moral Integrity citation. Shulamit Buskila and Police Commander Ephraim Erlich were selected from among 25 nominees following an in-depth examination into all the nominations conducted by both the Justice Ministry and the State Comptroller’s Office.
President Reuven Rivlin, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and State Comptroller Joseph Shapira were unanimous in their praise of those who do not keep silent in the face of corruption and injustice and demonstrate the courage of their convictions, knowing in advance that integrity often exacts a bitter price.
This was the second consecutive year in which the Moral Integrity citation was awarded. As a former Knesset Speaker and MK, Rivlin was aware of a law proposed in 1992 to encourage moral integrity on the part of public servants, but like so many pieces of legislation, it had not been finalized and had been confined to a drawer and forgotten.
Rivlin, Shapira and Shaked joined forces to have it brought into the open. Buskila exposed the abuse of helpless patients at the Tirat Carmel Mental Health Center, and Erlich exposed the link between police and organized crime.
Each went through extremely traumatic experiences, but in both cases, they also had the satisfaction of seeing a turnaround in attitude and behavior.
Rivlin said that it was of paramount importance to encourage public servants to make a special effort to detect and expose corruption.
Explaining the process of selecting the two winners, Rivlin said that the justice minister had approached the State Comptroller, the Public Service Commissioner, the Israel Police Investigations Chief, the Accountant General and the internal comptrollers and auditors of other state institutions.
Rivlin did this to emphasize the seriousness with which the matter was handled.
Following the examination of the nominations, the findings were turned over to the justice minister, who perused them and made her recommendations to the president. Rivlin voiced appreciation to NGO watchdogs such as Ogen and Ometz whose members have dedicated their efforts to exposing and eliminating corruption.
It was very important, he said, for the public to have confidence in state institutions. No one wants to have to worry about what might happen to elderly parents if they enter a state sponsored facility for senior citizens, he instanced.
Public servants who expose corruption are the lifeblood in the struggle to maintain the democratic character of the state, said Shaked, who also reiterated that despite all the suppositions and presumptions surrounding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he is innocent until proven guilty. Shaked did not mention Netanyahu by name but stated that [even] a person elected by the public, regardless of how high in rank, is innocent until there is proof to the contrary.
Shapira said that without the courage and moral integrity displayed by Erlich and Buskila, the corruption and injustice which they exposed would still be going on unnoticed.
Since coming into office five years ago, said Shapira, he has issued 74 witness protection orders, 19 of which are permanent.
He regretted that some of the witnesses had been found out in their workplaces and had been subjected to great hardships which had also impacted on their families.
In such cases, it is almost impossible for the whistle-blower to remain in his or her place of employment, in which case, said Shapira, he makes employers pay a very hefty amount in severance pay. He is hopeful that this too may serve as a deterrent to future corruption.