Corruption corrupts

The longer this government remains in place, the more our democracy will lose its restorative power.

September 24, 2007 21:52
3 minute read.
Corruption corrupts

Olmert worried 298.88. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)


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It is distressing that the news that the attorney-general has ordered a criminal police investigation into the actions of the prime minister is of passing interest, an event that is expected to quickly blend into the miasma of investigations, suspicions and scathing reports that swirl around our political leadership. Accusations of corruption have become routine, along with the assumption that where there is smoke there is fire. So regardless of proof, the public naturally assumes that something must be amiss. This time, Menahem Mazuz has felt compelled to investigate, not dismiss, suspicions that Ehud Olmert underpaid for his private home on Cremieux Street in Jerusalem, constituting a bribe on the part of the sellers. Other investigations and accusations still seem to be waiting in the wings. We must not let ourselves become numb to this unacceptable state of affairs. If a fraction of the allegations of corruption pan out, we have a serious problem. And if they do not, we have another serious problem, in the form of a judicial system that cannot quickly, quietly and reliably sort the wheat from the chaff, the guilty from the innocent. Unfortunately, it is also possible that the problems exist simultaneously, undermining public confidence in both the executive and judicial branches. Further, even if the politicians are believably pronounced cleaner than expected, without leaving prosecutors with egg on their faces, it will take some time for both these branches of government to rebuild the public's confidence. Nor can we forget that the cloud of corruption has merged with the no less dark cloud of the near complete loss in public confidence in the current political and previous military leadership in the wake of the Second Lebanon War and the ongoing Winograd Committee investigation. The foundations holding our government upright have crumbled, to the point that a number of its top ministers have already called for the prime minister to resign. This country has never had a government that has essentially declared no-confidence in itself, has lost the people's support, and yet remains propped up by the collective cynicism of the Knesset, its ministers, and most of all, the prime minister himself. That this political crisis has come at precisely a moment of significant danger to the nation compounds its severity. We have no basis to trust, and every reason to suspect, that the decision-making process and judgment at the top that has been found to be seriously flawed will now be compounded by the exigencies of political survival, which have become even more acute than usual for democratic leaders. Prime Minister Olmert assures us that whatever he is negotiating with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinians' quasi-leader, will be brought for some approval. What reason do we have to trust that Olmert's judgment regarding concessions he might make is not tainted by his personal political needs? Our leaders have never been entirely free of such suspicions, but we cannot remember a time when the chasm between public support for a leader and the challenges facing the nation has yawned so wide. While the parliamentary opposition is obviously calling on Olmert to step down, those voices in the governing coalition and the enormous cabinet that had previously called for such a change have now largely stepped back. But just as it was necessary for the IDF chief of staff and the defense minister to be replaced before the healing and restoration of the military could begin in earnest, it remains obvious that this must occur at the peak of the political echelon as well. The longer this government remains in place, the more our democracy will lose its restorative power. This power, after all, is based in a fundamental confidence that there is some connection between the public will and the government that supposedly exists to serve that will. It must be admitted that under the previous government of Ariel Sharon, the public became used to the idea that a government could widely be seen to be popular and suspected of corruption at the same time. In essence, the public decided that caring about corruption was a luxury that it could not afford. But not only does power corrupt, corruption also corrupts. The violation of one part of the democratic compact cannot be neatly compartmentalized, like firefighters isolating part of a fire. In the end, the fire, or the rot, spreads to the fundamentals, such as life-and-death decisions of war and peace.

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