Should Israelis be ashamed, or proud, that a former President is in prison for rape, and a former Prime Minister is scheduled to go to the same place for accepting bribes?
Perhaps a combination of shame and pride. One on account for the crimes. Another for holding the big guys accountable.
In both cases, their colleagues should have seen it coming long before they reached high office.
Moshe Katsav was known to have a problem with sex. The network of government secretaries warned newcomers about him as he climbed the ranks from Knesset Member through several ministerial posts.
When he ran for the Presidency as Likud's candidate in 2000, his principal opponent was Shimon Peres. One was known as a womanizer. The other as a man likely to use an office meant for national unity as a platform for political ambitions. Katsav benefited from a campaign to select "anyone but Peres." Some Knesset Members who knew of his inclinations voted for him in the hope that the high office would lead him to reform.
Olmert's inclinations toward favoritism began at least 20 years before his indictment. The State Comptroller reported that the young Health Minister had directed purchase contracts to a company headed by a party colleague, and refused the Comptroller's demand to provide details about the transactions. Subsequently, there were dicey issues with the acquisition of a family home, and other dealings when he was Mayor of Jerusalem and then returned to national government. There were police investigations that did not reach formal charges, and court cases dismissed for lack of evidence, up to the most recent appeal of a conviction to the Supreme Court. The justices noted some problems in the lower court's decisions, and reduced Olmert's jail time from six years to 18 months.
It's common in Israel to reduce sentences by a third in exchange for good behavior in prison. It helps if the prisoner admits to the crime, and expresses regret. Since neither Katsav nor Olmert have yet to admit their offenses, we may hear about their companionship in a VIP unit. They once were party colleagues. Katsav has residence in a unit reserved for religious prisoners, which provides for daily study and prayer. Olmert is not expected to be in that population. As a former Prime Minister, he is entitled to lifetime security guards. That, and his knowledge of state secrets having the highest importance, will provide some logistical problems for prison officials. Olmert is not expected to mingle with the ordinary run of thieves, pimps, embezzlers, murderers, and rapists, or with Palestinians serving time for security offenses.
Katsav and Olmert are not the only bad boys to have served at high levels in the Israeli government. Several other former ministers spent time in prison, another is under indictment, and one--Ariyeh Deri--came back after waiting out the period of isolation from politics associated with Israel's version of felony. Moreover, he wants the office where he earlier went bad, the Ministry of Interior.The Ministry passes lots of money to local authorities, and is a honey pot tempting those inclined to trade government decisions for personal benefit. The law may permit Deri's appointment, but--if the Prime Minister gives it to him--there is sure to be an appeal by opponents to the Supreme Court, and good government activists will reach high volume.
There is no good measure of corruption that can be used to compare countries. There are indices that rely on public opinion or the judgement of "experts" who may not know well more than one or a few countries. One of these ranks Israel lower than most, but not all western democracies, and well above almost everything else in the Middle East and the Third World
Israeli justice works slowly. Anyone wondering about that should open a page of the Talmud, and see the Rabbis arguing at length about the smallest details of law. The idea that justice delayed is justice denied does not fly with Israeli lawyers or judges. Olmert's latest stint in court began in 2009 and may not be over when he enters prison. There are other charges against him yet to be resolved.
An American friend, Malcolm Feeley, published a book entitled The Process is the Punishment. It deals primarily with young, Black ghetto dwellers spending much of their time in jail or on bail while under investigation or indictment, often benefiting from a plea bargain or insufficient evidence, until their inevitable next encounter with the cops.
Feeley could have added a chapter about Ehud Olmert.
The length of Olmert's cases may reflect the multiplicity of charges directed against him in several of his governmental positions, and his own skill as an attorney to cover his ass while doing wrong.
He met his limits, however, when a key aide perceived an accusation against her in Olmert's efforts at defense. Until then, she had cooperated with covering her boss's tracks. After the accusation, however, she revealed that she had recorded a conversation with Olmert, in which he described their mutual monkey business. She employed the recording in her own plea bargaining, and helped to seal Olmert's conviction.
In the same week that the Supreme Court announced its decisions about Ehud Olmert, the police investigation into the activity of Sarah Netanyahu reached the stage of her being interviewed at headquarters "under warning" (that anything she said could be used against her). The details concern a long running investigation into the management of the Prime Minister's residence. Charges include her taking for personal use the moneys received by returning used bottles, the use of furniture purchased for the official residence at the family's private residence, padding expenditures for various repairs, and using public funds for the treatment of her father.
Her first meeting with the police lasted for several hours, and there may be more to come..
Friends of the official family have said the charges are trivial, and note that the prosecutor dithered for some time before authorizing the police to go ahead with a criminal investigation, Others, not so friendly to the Netanyahus, see the charges as reflecting long running dubious behaviors, especially by the First Lady. They have included temper tantrums and other unseemly behavior directed at the household help, meddling in her husbands official decisions, and a generalized posture of behaving as if the State of Israel was her's to do as she wishes. Both Netanyahus were investigated after Bibi's first term as Prime Minister, having to do with improper arrangements for services associated with the official residence. At that time, the prosecutor closed the file without bringing charges.
On the day scheduled for her testimony, Israel Hayom (Bibipress) included an item on its front page, with Sarah saying, "The people will see the truth, despite what the media are reporting."
Yedioth Aharonot and Ha'aretz headlined her scheduled appearance at the police with a brief summary of the charges. The not-so-friendly cartoonist of Ha'aretz often portrays Sarah in a way to emphasize her porcine appearance.
Sarah's offenses, if they are confirmed, are not likely to reach the magnitude of Olmert, who collected tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for making favorable decisions. One commentator calculated that the sums involved in Sarah's alleged shenanigans reach into the tens of thousands of shekels (currently about four to the dollar). One hears the term חזירות to describe Sarah's behavior. The word is an adjective derived from the noun חזיר, which is not a kosher animal.
Polite bi-lingual Israelis, not so opposed to the Prime Minister, might translate חזירות as "improper behavior." Others use the terms גניבה or גזלן, meaning thievery, and justifying actions of the police and prosecutor..
So far, publicity about the First Lady has not limited the career of the First Gentleman.
February 15th is the designated time for Ehud Olmert's entry to custody. Those inclined to wager on the subject should not risk more than they can afford to lose.
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Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)Department of Political ScienceHebrew University of Jerusalem