End of an era?

Incoming Knesset members have a fresh opportunity to make clean government a priority.

Given the widespread consensus that the outgoing 16th Knesset was the most corrupt in history, it is strange that the contending parties barely allude to that issue in their campaigns. Not that every MK or faction was tainted with the same brush, but the fact is that the outgoing Knesset did establish new highs - or rather new depths - of political corruption. It is hard to think of a more extreme example of institutional corruption than of several Likud MKs taking advantage of their physical proximity to their neighbors' voting machines in the Knesset in order to vote several times in the highly critical budget vote. The illegal double voting was caught by the cameras on the floor of the Knesset. Those highly sophisticated machines were originally installed at a cost of millions of shekels to compete with the larcenous hearts of some of the MKs. In the end, their untrammeled hutzpa triumphed and all MKs found themselves smeared with the same brush, and succumbed to the advice of their "more pragmatic" colleagues to sweep the whole mess under the rug. What made the affair even more ludicrously bizarre was when one of the culprits was caught by the Knesset cameras - again - stealing the incriminating evidence from the Knesset basement. The "good news" here is that the otherwise notorious Likud Central Committee did not renominate the thief to a realistic slot on the party's list for the next Knesset. And now for some some bad news as well as some more potentially good news. One of the motivations of prospective wrongdoer MKs is that they will not be caught, and if perchance they are that the wheels and gears of party machinery will be brought into play to protect the miscreant and the party as a whole. The bad news is that MKs who are caught red-handed in their skullduggery can depend on the party leadership which in the case of Likud and Kadima are themselves tainted by charges of wrongdoing - to get them off. This was true of the Likud under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and his son, Omri. The fact that Omri was prosecuted, found guilty and sentenced to jail should stand as a reminder that some things have changed. Another thing that has changed for the better is that after half a century of dithering: State Comptroller and former District Court Judge Micha Lindenstrauss has agreed to name names of the miscreants he is investigating, including cabinet ministers and directors-general. On the other hand, the media have done a miserable job in pursuing wrong-doers, being distracted by the hoopla of the campaign. At the beginning of the campaign, much was made of Sharon's "legacy." It should be clear that part of that legacy was Sharon's condoning a crooked party. While the Sharons, p re et fils, are no longer around, Ehud Olmert has as sleazy a record as any public servant. If there is any point of comparison between the three it is that Olmert has managed not to be caught in umpteen cases. AND NOW for some more potentially good news. One of the aspects of the present elections is that many parties have chosen to decorate their lists with some top people from the academic and professional worlds. I am not na ve enough to claim that the mere possession of a PhD makes a man immune to the lures of larceny and other forms of embezzlement even when they come wrapped in the flag and loyalty to the party and its top leaders. Labor's Avishay Braverman and Kadima's Uriel Reichman and a number of other academics and former heads of the security services are bringing to politics personal records of public probity which they have profound interests protecting. These people will soon be involved deeply in the maelstrom of "whogets what" as their respective parties divvy up cabinet goodies. The State Comptroller's Office is finally doing its job to promote clean government. Now is the time for an embarrassed media and topparty politicians to do theirs.