In praise of Lindenstrauss

The State Comptroller's primary sin appears to boil down to over-zealousness.

lindenstrauss 88 (photo credit: )
lindenstrauss 88
(photo credit: )
In an imposing advertisement in the Hebrew press, five of the country's more prominent law and political science professors - Amnon Rubinstein, Shlomo Avineri, Yaffa Zilbershatz, Yoav Dotan and Arik Carmon - last week lambasted State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss for doing "damage to the order of government in Israel." His primary sin appears to boil down to over-zealousness. Lindenstrauss, the five assert, treads dangerously on the police's turf, blurring lines of distinction between his probes and criminal investigations. They also take the comptroller severely to task for what they claim are leaks from his office - leaks relating to the matters he intends to investigate, as well as "the conduct of investigations and means of investigation, while said investigations are ongoing." Lindenstrauss's public profile is too high, it is implied, and it is an alleged conceit of his to think that he can take on corruption in high places "singlehandedly." There is no arguing that Lindenstrauss is a comptroller of a different mold from all his predecessors, even though some of them were hardly timid or taciturn themselves. He pledged to be proactive when he took office and has proved every bit as good as his word. Much of what the professors find problematic and deserving of criticism may well be the consequence of Lindenstrauss's stated promise to tirelessly expose all improprieties in the public sphere. The law empowers him to battle corruption unequivocally, indeed to place himself at the vanguard of that struggle. Clause 2b of the Basic Law dealing with the comptroller's duties defines these as "investigating the legality of actions, ascertaining the integrity and honesty, proper administration, efficiency and economy of those institutions examined, and any other issue the comptroller deems necessary." There can therefore be no doubt that Lindenstrauss is authorized to do precisely what he has vowed to do and is determinedly doing: to examine the conduct of all public officials, up to and including that of the prime minister. Even assuming that the professors were absolutely just in their complaints about leaks and about their "disrupting and paralyzing" impact on the prime minister's work, they fail to explain why this is different from the pathological leakage from our police and prosecution. Why focus on Lindenstrauss alone, and not on the police inspector general or attorney-general? And why pretend that premiers weren't beset by investigations prior to Lindenstrauss and that the leaks and publicity campaigns against them weren't incomparably more merciless? According to the former chairwoman of the Knesset Control Committee, Shinui's Mali Polishuk-Bloch, "the comptroller's most effective tool is to reach public opinion." As to the leaks, she notes that often these originate not in the comptroller's office but from among interested parties - those under investigation, their supporters or opponents. As to Lindenstrauss's alleged fondness for publicity, that is plainly neither here nor there. The fact is that this energetic comptroller has managed to make his office more relevant, powerful and effective than it had ever been. And this is a healthy - indeed overdue - development for our society. No wonder apolitical watchdog organizations have gone to bat for Lindenstrauss. One such group, Ometz, has characterized his policy as "determined and brave," while the Movement for Quality Government has noted that "keeping the public in the dark is the true stab in democracy's heart... Too often voters go to the polls uninformed about suspicions surrounding candidates, even candidates for the premiership." In the past, state comptrollers, hard working and dedicated though they may have been, were widely derided as "toothless tigers" and their reports belittled as "dust-gatherers." The thick volumes they produced annually were "news for a day," fated to be consigned to oblivion immediately thereafter. Far, far better to have Lindenstrauss, a comptroller who has made plain his insistence on rooting out wrongdoing and who refuses to be relegated to the role of forgotten file-ferret, a guardian of the public interest who makes headlines and has elevated his office from that of ignored carper on the sidelines of officialdom.