90% say Israel tainted with corruption

2008 Democracy Index reflects "growing mistrust" of government institutions; only 17% say they trust PM.

supreme court 22488  (photo credit: Channel 1)
supreme court 22488
(photo credit: Channel 1)
The Israeli public's confidence in its politicians and democratic institutions is decidedly on the wane, according to the Democracy Index for 2008. According to this year's survey, the media, which the Israeli public loves to hate, has outranked the Supreme Court as the institution deemed to best safeguard Israeli democracy. With a 36 percent rating, the media is ahead of the court by only one percentage point - but it's a very telling point when the Supreme Court falls behind the media as a guardian of democracy. The Knesset ranked third as a protector of democracy, with 16%, and the prime minister limped into fourth place with 13%. Of institutions most trusted by the public, the IDF is in the lead, but even so, at 71%, its rating has declined by three percentage points from last year. Most troubling to Arye Carmon, founder and president of the Israel Democracy Institute, which conducts the survey for the Democracy Index, and to President Shimon Peres, to whom Carmon presented the index on Tuesday, was the fact that 90% of the respondents believed that Israel was tainted with corruption and 51% believed that in order to reach the top of the political totem pole in Israel, a politician must be corrupt. One percent of respondents believed that there was no corruption in Israel, and 9% believed that corruption was "minimal". But 60% considered the country's level of corruption to be "very high" and 30% believed it to be "quite high." However, not everyone in politics has lost the public's trust. Peres, Israel's longest-serving politician, is trusted much more as president than was his predecessor. Trust in the president of the state has soared from 22% to 47%, said Carmon, noting that the survey was conducted in February. If it were conducted today, he surmised, the figure would be much higher. Despite his long political past, Peres advocated that politicians spend less time in office to make room for younger people. It was essential, he said, for elected representatives to remain aware that they were there to serve the public and not their own personal interests at the public's expense. He added that it was equally essential to involve young people in the political process. According to Carmon, anti-political sentiment among Israelis is growing, with only 43% of respondents saying they discuss politics on a regular basis. "Politics is the blood flow of democracy," declared Carmon, who vowed to do everything possible to intensify public debate so as to ensure that the whole political system became more transparent, especially with regard to primaries. Prof. Asher Arian, who was in charge of preparing the survey, expressed concern about electoral turn-out in November's municipal elections and for possible Knesset elections. The public is so turned off by politics, Arian said, that he doubted that the number of voters would be anywhere near the number of citizens entitled to vote. Peres lauded the Israel Democracy Institute as "the watchdog of society" and said that its work was "essential." He was not quite as perturbed by the situation as Carmon. "Democracy in Israel is in fine shape," said Peres. "It's the institutions of democracy that are in crisis." Peres was proud of the fact that for all its problems, Israel has been able to maintain a strong democratic system. Israel was not alone in its leadership difficulties, he remarked. "The whole world is confronting a leadership crisis." In response to the survey's findings on the decline in public confidence in the judicial system, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch said the drop was part of an increasing skepticism on the part of the public in government in general. "In the natural course of events, when public confidence in all government institutions declines, there will be those who say why should we believe in this one [i.e. the court]," said Beinisch. "After all, it is also composed of human beings and is also part of the establishment. So it is that the syndrome of the overall decrease of confidence regarding all institutions is part of today's harsh reality." The Supreme Court president was speaking at a ceremony marking the admission of almost 1,000 new lawyers to the Israel Bar. Beinisch added that the popularity of the courts should not be measured by "ratings." "Public confidence in the court is not measured by applause but by the number of petitions which come to it from all sectors of the public. And the number of those who petition the High Court is high? Public confidence is also measured by the number of different topics which are brought before the court in all matters of human rights and law enforcement." Without mentioning him by name, Beinisch also replied to an accusation leveled at the High Court of Justice by Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann. Two weeks ago, Friedmann accused the court of "inviting" petitions in high profile cases because it sought publicity. "The court does not invite petitions as it has been baselessly accused of doing recently," said Beinisch. "But it is alert and open to such petitions when the petitioner points out a legal reason for applying judicial review." Without naming them, Beinisch also attacked Friedmann and others, including two MKs who have proposed private member's bills to restrict the High Court's legal jurisdiction. "It should be remembered that all of the disqualifications of candidates for public office by the court until now were not for minor matters or out of capriciousness," she said. "They dealt with people who had been on trial or were involved in criminal activities having to do with unethical behavior."