Former PM Ehud Olmert .
(photo credit: AMIT SHABAY/POOL)
The first request I make of the El Al stewardess whenever I return to Israel from one of my trips abroad is for The Jerusalem Post. I literally thirst for an Israeli newspaper – and even if the news is not so good, I never cease to thrill at holding in my hands a newspaper published in the State of Israel informing us of the accomplishments and setbacks of our miraculous “start-up nation” barely seven decades after the Holocaust.
This past Tuesday I made the same request. However, for the first time since my aliya 33 years ago, my emotions were very different as I looked at the headline, and – although I had known the fact of it – the black letters expressed the fear and foreboding which overwhelmed my usual optimistic feelings upon returning home.
“[Ehud] Olmert enters jail, becomes the first PM to go behind bars.” And I look up at the date, Adar 7, 5776, the Yarzheit of Moshe Rabbenu.
Moses gave us God’s Torah, the eternal words which promise that we shall be a nation in our homeland “because Abraham is teaching his descendants and household after him to observe the pathway of the Lord, to do acts of compassionate righteousness and moral justice.” This is the message which we are to teach humanity, this is the reason for the eternity of our Covenant with the Divine. And last Tuesday a former prime minister of Israel began a jail sentence for accepting bribes and obstructing justice.
The prophet Isaiah (740-681 BCE) foresaw the destruction of the first Temple; “How the faithful City [Jerusalem] has become a harlot ! She had formerly been full of justice, righteousness had been lodged within her....
But now your Princes are backsliding, associating with thieves; each of them loves bribery and pursues pay-offs [Heb. shalmonim].
They judge not the orphan, nor does the just grievance of the widow come before them” (Isaiah 1:21-23).
And tragically in that very same prison now home to Olmert, Ma’asiyahu Prison, former president Moshe Katzav was waiting to greet him while himself under sentence for rape, former Shas MK Shlomo Benizri is concluding a term for embezzlement and former – and present?! – Interior Minister Aryeh Deri only recently concluded his sentence for taking bribes.
Isaiah concludes his first chapter: “Zion shall be redeemed [only] by means of justice, and those who return to her [only] by means of compassionate righteousness.” We have now entered our Third Commonwealth, hoping and praying that this is the “beginning of the sprouting of our Redemption.”
All of our previous prime ministers, most notably David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, Levi Eshkol, Menahem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir to mention only the first five, were paragons of probity; virtually all were of very modest means and without even a scintilla of financial scandal when they left office. And last Tuesday a former prime minister of Israel began a jail sentence for obstructing justice and accepting bribes.
My grandmother would have said, “Oy, a shanda” (Yiddish for shameful disgrace).
If this continues, dare we even attempt to reach out for redemption? Do we really think that we begin to have a chance?