So there I was, on board the El Al flight to Zurich this past Sunday morning, when smoke began to fill the cockpit. The incident occurred as the aircraft was taxiing down the runway just prior to takeoff at Ben-Gurion International Airport. After bringing the plane to an abrupt halt, the pilot turned on the intercom. With a noticeable hint of alarm in his voice, he proceeded to tell us somewhat anxious passengers to get up from our seats and exit the plane as calmly and as quickly as possible. You can certainly imagine my surprise when all of those aboard did just that - leaving the plane in a far more orderly way than is typical on an El Al flight. With the emergency slides beckoning, each of us barreled our way down the inflatable rubber contraptions, like children on an outing at a water park, minus the shouts of glee, of course. Only instead of splashing into some heavily-chlorinated pool, we came to a stop on the solid ground of the tarmac before a collection of firemen and other security personnel instructed us rather firmly to get the heck away from the plane. Standing there alongside the runway, as an El Al representative distributed warm cups of water and equally unsatisfying words of reassurance, I could not help but thank God that the problem had been discovered before, rather than after, we were airborne. Had the smoke started just a few seconds laterâ€¦ well, my friends, let's just say things would have been a whole lot more complicated. After wading through the theological and personal significance of this affair, and wondering what would happen to all those delicious El Al bagels they had planned to serve us for breakfast, my mind wandered back to a more serene, if somewhat more preposterous setting from the yesteryear of childhood: the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circus. What else? I still remember how, as a young boy, I marveled at the trapeze artists, the lion tamers and the high-wire acts. The jugglers never seemed to miss, the elephants always excelled at their acts, and that guy who ate the fire delighted young and old with his fearsome digestive achievements. What does this have to do with the incident on the plane? Well, as I watched my fellow passengers exit to safety, I was reminded of that quaint little car that used to pull up in the center of the circus arena, as a seemingly endless stream of performers came hurtling out of it onto the floor. I could never quite figure that one out. How do so many clowns emerge from such a small, compact space? And then, as I stood there pondering the similarities between our national airline and a three-ring circus, I realized that one can now ask the very same question about Israel and its present government. FOR WITH each passing day, it seems that yet another public figure is either being investigated, interrogated or indicted, on a range of charges that would make even television mobster Tony Soprano's cheeks turn bright red - or at least a soft shade of pink - in shame. Our president is accused of rape, our finance minister of pocketing envelopes stuffed with stolen cash, and our former justice minister has been convicted of French-kissing a young solider. Labor parliamentarian Yoram Marciano is being questioned on his involvement in a drunken brawl outside a nightclub, while Esterina Tartman of the Yisrael Beitenu Party was caught fibbing on her resume. Like that car in the circus, the Knesset is a relatively small body. So the question still stands: just how does it produce so many clowns? One after another they come pouring out, splashing onto the front pages of our newspapers each morning with new and sundry tales of corruption, indiscretion and outright sin. For a country facing so many challenges - domestic and foreign - how is it that our political leaders have the on their hands to engage in such tawdry and shameful acts? It is almost as if the entire senior echelon of the state has suddenly been caught with its hand in the cookie jar. When a country's political system starts to resemble a poorly-scripted late-night soap opera, it's as sure a sign as any that something is truly rotten, and not just in the state of Denmark. It's been said that a people gets the leaders it deserves, but I beg to differ. We deserve a whole lot better than what we've got right now, and then some. Sure, corruption is endemic to any and all political systems. But there is no excuse for it, and there is a limit to what a nation can and should be willing to tolerate. By any measure, the gang in power has crossed every red line a civilized society can and should be forced to abide. I say it is time to throw the bums out and clean up our political system once and for all. The present leadership is an embarrassment at home and a disgrace abroad. Its behavior makes Israel look like a falafel republic - a Middle Eastern version of a corrupt Third World state beset by cronyism, dishonesty and sleaze. Worse yet, by chipping away at people's faith in the political system and by undermining their confidence in the state and its institutions, our politicians' moral malfeasance breeds despair, disgust and demoralization. It only serves to generate still further cynicism regarding values such as honesty, integrity and public service. We need new elections now, and we need some fresh new faces to enter the fray. With all due respect to the deranged Iranian dictator preaching our collective annihilation abroad, the moral and ideological rot here at home is also becoming increasingly radioactive. This past Sunday, the pilot on the El Al flight had the wisdom to change planes when he saw smoke spewing out of the engine. The question now before us is: Will we?