Why do voters reelect corrupt politicians to office?

A bill is under consideration to force indicted officials into suspension.

October 23, 2013 22:55
3 minute read.
Bat Yam Mayor Lahiani

Bat Yam Mayor Lahiani. (photo credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)


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What is one of the best ways to get elected mayor in Israel? Get indicted for corruption.

At least that is a strategy that worked for Shlomo Lahiani (Bat Yam), Yitzchak Rochberger (Ramat Hasharon) and Shimon Gafsou (Nazareth Illit).

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All three were mayors until down-the-stretch of the election campaign (in Lahiani’s case, less than two days before the vote), when they were fired by the High Court of Justice after being indicted for various financial crimes.

But just as the High Court said it had the power to fire them, it also said it lacked the power to prevent them from running for reelection.

All three were reelected in their respective municipalities.

What does their reelection, despite the prosecution indicting them and the High Court rebuking them for not self-resigning by firing them, mean morally, and what does it say about how the public views the courts? A short answer, which avoids the broader moral questions, would be that even as the High Court fired them and said it was uneasy with letting them run again, the public focused on the fact that the court did allow them to run and on the idea of innocent until proven guilty (read: convicted and not merely indicted.) A more controversial answer would be that the public’s vote is an endorsement of the mayors at the court’s expense.

This is a definite possibility.

Over the past year, the courts have been hammered on a general basis, with hard-hitting attacks from many political parties on various decisions made on hot issues such as the settlements and migrants.

Judges, as a class, have also been attacked after multiple scandals as well as revelations that Supreme Court President Asher D.

Grunis had admitted, in a closed-committee hearing, that some judges on the bench are “ticking bombs” waiting to go off.

The most troubling answer might be that the public is ready to overlook corruption and is willing to reelect politicians who are charismatic and personable, even if they had been found guilty of abusing their positions.

Shas party leader Arye Deri’s successful return to politics after his prison term and a seven-year ban would testify to that possibility.

This would fly in the face of a famous 1993 case and quote by former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak, who said that “the purity of service and state of mind stands at the foundation of public service and at the foundation of our societal structure.”

This does not mean that the public views corruption as irrelevant, only that it might value dynamic leadership as more important than Barak had envisioned.

The message that this might send to future politicians considering corrupt schemes could have disturbing implications.

But the story may not be over.

A bill is under consideration which could force indicted local officials into temporary suspension.

Also, OMETZ, the Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel, filed a new petition on Wednesday asking the court to refire the mayors.

The court’s decision will likely consider why it had allowed the mayors to run for reelection. If it was because of the possibility that the public might not vote for them, and that the public rejecting them was a preferred result, there is a good chance that the court will refire them.

But maybe the court fired them and allowed them to run because they were elected before the public had any knowledge of their indictment and, in this week’s election, they had that information.

In that case, the court might feel bound to respect the public’s decision, even though it was willing to fire the mayors before the public had spoken on the issue.

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