Sarid: Corruption is a prime ministerial prerequisite

Corruption is so rampant in Israeli politics that it has become a prerequisite for becoming prime minister, said former Meretz MK Yossi Sarid on Monday. He and a number of MKs, Police Insp.-Gen. Moshe Karadi and State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss railed against the dangers of corruption and the lack of law enforcement in Israel, when speaking on Monday at the Sixth Herzliya Conference sponsored by the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya. Making light of the problem for a moment, Sarid joked that perhaps his own advancement was limited by his lack of corruption. "You have no idea how jealousy is lighting a fire within. The attorney-general has never given me a hearing. The police have never come to my house to send me to one of its [investigation] stations. Those who leave that room and are acquitted in spite of their guilt head to the Prime Minister's Office. If this is a prerequisite for leadership, we can do without it," said Sarid. TV and newspaper reporter Dan Margalit, who in the 1970s broke the story of the illegal US bank account belonging to prime minister Yitzhak Rabin's wife, said corruption in the upper echelons of government was particularly dangerous. "The moment it comes from the top, it can't be fought against by the top," said Margalit. The opposition in Israel has failed to pick up the gauntlet on this issue, leaving it solely on the shoulders of the state comptroller, he said. What troubles him the most, he said, is that the public doesn't care. Acceptance of corruption as normative is more dangerous to the state than any of its external enemies, he added. Voter apathy is apparent in the fact that Labor MK Isaac Herzog was recently voted to the top of the party's Knesset list, said Likud MK Michael Eitan, who heads the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. He noted that no one seemed to have been bothered by Herzog's alleged past involvement in a monetary scandal involving millions of shekels. Similarly, he said, Tzahi Hanegbi, who is being investigated by the police for corruption, was still appointed to head Kadima's election staff because "people know it won't change even one vote." If politicians believed corruption would get them into trouble with the voters, they would behave differently, Eitan said. He added that corruption existed in all sectors of society, industry, medicine and the media. On a slightly different note, Karadi said the police did not have enough resources to bring to justice all instances of corruption and illegal activity, and sometimes were simply throwing out or rejecting case files. Karadi said some illegal acts such as traffic violations, financial irregularities and the use of soft drugs were becoming legitimate in the eyes of the public. Lindenstrauss said that as comptroller he was doing his best to improve the situation of governmental corruption by releasing reports immediately and publishing the names of corrupt government employees. Shelly Yacimovich, who recently left Channel 2 and is now ninth on the Labor Party's upcoming Knesset list, created a stir when she attacked the conference itself as being anti-democratic, in that it created a private capitalistic forum to discuss major governmental policy issues that were better addressed in the Knesset. She also accused the media of bending to the will of the capitalist investors. Reporters are not free to report the news, she said. Attorney and former Labor MK Elie Goldschmidt attacked her, comparing her comments on capitalism to those of Shinui's anti-religious stance. Preaching hatred and prejudice helps one become popular, he said, noting that Shinui received 15 mandates simply by attacking the religious sectors of society. On a separate note, Sarid said that he was also bothered by the way Israel treats the weaker sectors of society. "Denmark is more Jewish to me than the Jewish state," said Sarid. "A Jewish state is a place where you put on tefillin and observe Shabbat. It's a state that does not throw its elderly away," said Sarid.