Shiny angry people

2010 saw a record number of complaints filed with the state comptroller, judge Micha Lindenstrauss.

Micha Lindenstrauss 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Micha Lindenstrauss 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
With recent headlines devoted to the Toulouse massacre as well as the latest round of saber-rattling vis-à-vis Iran, a very important story was relegated to the back pages last week. This tale of woe comes directly from the Israeli people.
Turns out that 2010 saw a record number of complaints filed with the state comptroller, judge Micha Lindenstrauss. The Comptroller’s Office handled a whopping 15,000 complaints against various government institutions, 29 percent of which were deemed justified. That’s a 6.5% jump from 2010. Analysts quoted in the various media outlets say that these numbers for a country the size of Israel are abnormally high.
Since Judge Lindenstrauss took over the position nearly five years ago, the number of grievances has nearly doubled. He advocated and succeeded in convincing the Knesset to open regional branches of his office, and the complaints have been pouring in. I would be willing to place a nice sized wager that we’ll see an even higher number next year.
After being handed the report last week, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin expressed the paradox under which most Israelis are living today as to the country’s leadership and system of government. Loosely translated, he said the comptroller’s office strengthens the bonds of trust between citizens, the government and its institutions.
I almost laughed when I read the rest of Rivlin’s statement, saying Israelis understand that they have where to go to voice their grievances, as well as for solutions to their problems. Given today’s socioeconomic climate, one could almost consider these comments part of a poor joke.
One reason I don’t get it is that Lindenstrauss seems to be the only righteous man in Jerusalem these days. Under the guise of comptroller, his office is investigating the top members of the government, including those in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s office, as well as the defense, interior and finance ministers. The possibility of unethical behavior, obstruction and gross incompetence are all being looked into. With just a bit over three months before Lindenstrauss is due to retire, he and his staff will have to work overtime to finalize any of key reports.
With so many top officials under investigation, what pact between the government and its people is Rivlin talking about? Perhaps Rivlin was thinking about the trust the people have in their government to look out for their interests. If anything, the opposite has been apparent – and Israelis know it.
Recent polls in the domestic press show that the public is rejecting the government’s agenda. This applies both to attacking Iran on our own and to the recent price hikes for water, gasoline and electricity.
One can only conclude that there are people in the government who are under the illusion they live in Versailles. After the last time the Finance Ministry decided to raise the price of gas, one official was quoted as saying, “People should take public transportation.” That’s a quote I’m going to remember for a while. “Let them eat cake” indeed.
One of the main problems is that the Israeli system is not built to cleanse itself of leaders whose behavior is questionable but not illegal.
There is no sanction the public can place on an elected official which could force them to either change their ways or step down.
There is no personal responsibility as Knesset members are loyal to their party and not the people who voted for it. That has to change.
It also brings me back to judge Lindenstrauss.
His office does not have the mandate to deal with issues which would fall under the category of “chutzpah.” An elected official might do something 100% wrong, but if it wasn’t illegal, they can’t be touched, at least not by the comptroller. That also must change. Our elected officials and those who work for them must be held to a higher standard and accountable to the public that pays their salaries.
In a recent speech, Mr. Lindenstrauss said he strongly believes his office should be part of an additional branch of government. An auditor’s branch would work side by side with the legislative, executive and judiciary while being independent of the Knesset.
Judging by the volume of work he’s dealing with today and the mountains which are sure to come, that might not be a bad idea.
Jeremy Ruden is an independent media consultant.