Opinion: On corruption

Religious Zionists could serve as an ideological avant-garde to a growing part of the secular public.

marching out of gaza 88 (photo credit: )
marching out of gaza 88
(photo credit: )
In the burgeoning internal debate over where the national religious movement went wrong following its traumatic defeat over the issue of vacating the settlements in the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria, some rabbis and political leaders have proposed that it shift its focus to socioeconomic issues rather than concentrating all its energies on the territorial one. Part of the rationale for such a shift in focus is that religious Zionists could serve as an ideological avant-garde to a growing part of the non-observant public which feels betrayed by the policies of the major secular parties in the socioeconomic arena. It is far from certain that such ideas will win out in the national religious camp as the debate continues in this coming election year. What is certain is that Israel's situation in the domestic arena has become so problematic and visible to an uneasy public that it simply calls out for a vanguard political party willing and able to forge broad coalitions to spearhead much-overdue reforms. The rapid concentration of wealth and ownership of large chunks of the economy in the hands of a small number of families and foreign investors is no secret. Nor is the growing gap in income between the top two deciles and the bottom eight (and even more between the top percentile and all the others) that has turned Israel from a poorer but more comfortable middle-class society into a statistically richer one marked by ever-growing divisions between rich and poor. These trends have developed during the past quarter of a century, in which our two major governing parties - Likud and Labor - have acquiesced in and furthered them. TRUE, IN his ongoing life-and-death clash for the leadership of the Likud with Binyamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has instructed Netanyahu's successor at the Finance Ministry, Ehud Olmert, to come up with an immediate solution to the problem of poverty. The insincerity of this flip-flop is attested to by Sharon's previous, oft-repeated, full backing for Netanyahu's antisocial economic policies. Nor is the characterization of Netanyahu's economic policies as "swinish capitalism" by Labor Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres any more convincing. Given the overarching importance of party politics in Israel, the tremendous and growing clout exercised by Big Money on party politics provides a good part of the explanation of these trends. One example of such clout is the matter-of-fact manner in which a good part of our media have accepted the normalcy of membership in the Likud's Central Committee being motivated largely by personal greed and "jobs for the boys." On the Labor side this expressed itself in the large-scale corruption attending the recent party membership drive. These domestic developments have their international reflection in the periodic rankings according to political corruption in the world's countries by Transparency International. In 2005 Israel is ranked 28th compared with 26th the previous year; 21st in 2003, and 16th in 2001. In first place - as least politically corrupt - is Iceland, with Finland and New Zealand as runners up. Should we feel any better on account of the Palestinian Authority being ranked in 107th place? The definition of political corruption, as reported by Transparency International on the basis of 16 separate measures applied by 10 different independent institutes, is the exploitation of public office for the purpose of personal profit. I am quite certain that any average Israeli newspaper reader or television viewer and radio listener does not need these cold statistics to back up his own sorry knowledge in this regard. SO WHAT has all this to do with the recently traumatized national religious camp? In Israel's first decades the National Religious Party was especially known for its political corruption, which presumably derived from a galut mentality in which it was a mitzva for persecuted Jewish communities and individuals to cheat the ruling goyish system wherever possible (pardon my anti-Semitic prejudices). The answer to the NRP question lies in the hopelessness of both the Likud and Labor on these issues, with Tommy Lapid's Shinui even worse in the "swinishness" of its "robber-baron capitalist" policies, and Shas worse still in its unembarrassed, "natural" Third World corruption. By Israel's second half-century one might expect the national religious camp to have outgrown its beleaguered minority sensitivities sufficiently to concern itself with the problems that confront Israel as a society. In recent weeks some rabbis and lay leaders from that camp have indeed expressed a concern for such broader issues that, to my secular Jewish eyes, would seem to be an echo of the First Temple prophetic revolt against the corrupt religion of our priests.
Send us your comments >> Steven Karmi, Katzrin, Israel: I, for one, will be willing to support the religious political parties if they prove forthright and consistent in challenging the prevailing corruption and plutocracy in Israeli politics. I did not support their opposition to the Gaza withdrawal, but I am more naturally allied with them vis-a-vis the Golan, the West Bank and the unity of Yerushalayim.