Where have all the good men gone?

We boast an impressive pool of gifted people. They're found in business, industry, military and academia, but the cream of our talent is rarely in the Knesset.

311_Knesset fight (photo credit: Knesset Channel)
311_Knesset fight
(photo credit: Knesset Channel)
The dramatic conviction of Moshe Katsav exposed the gravity of the former president’s crimes.
Although the guilty verdict was a powerful proof that nobody is above the law (as noted in these pages by Liat Collins in “Justice for all...” on Sunday), Israelis must not kid themselves that all is well. Katsav’s crimes are merely the latest in a long list of serious misdemeanors committed by those in public office. Moreover, unless the public demands more from its leaders, people will find themselves sleepwalking into a future with little direction.
The list of high-profile figures involved in serious crime is shamefully long. The police enquiry into Katsav, which began in the summer of 2006, was shortly followed by an investigation into Ehud Olmert’s conduct during his time as finance minister, sparking a chain of events which culminated in his resignation as prime minister and the filing of corruption charges against him. Another former finance minister, Avraham Hirchson, was sentenced to five years in jail for embezzlement in 2009, while former justice minister Haim Ramon was convicted of indecently assaulting a female soldier in 2007.
Far too many officials apparently view public office as an opportunity for personal gain rather than societal change. One can only conclude that the caliber of our leaders is woefully poor. This is surprising, given that this country is lauded as an engine for innovation, a hub of creativity and a leader in important global industries. The cache of Nobel Prizes awarded to Israelis and the well-worn “start-up nation” tag are evidence that we boast an impressive pool of gifted people. Yet although these individuals can be found in business, industry, the military and academia, the cream of our talent is rarely to be found in the Knesset.
SADLY, IT appears that the best of the best are reluctant to assume the leadership of the country at a time when it faces stern challenges to its security, identity and democracy.
Although other vocations provide more lucrative alternatives, there is certainly no financial barrier to entering parliament, with members of the Knesset enjoying a relatively generous deal. Yet top businessmen, entrepreneurs and academics, who have already enjoyed successful careers, are hardly beating down the doors to enter the political world.
High achievers succeed in environments which encourage innovation and creativity. In contrast, our political system maintains a status quo where mere survival is usually the limited ambition of most governments. While the private sector fosters leadership, imagination and purpose, the country’s political echelon is paralyzed by a selfserving ethos.
Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin recently lamented the lack of true leaders in parliament. He compared today’s leaders to a blindly obedient dog, endlessly attempting to curry favor with the people and thus obtain power, regardless of the ideological price or negative impact on the greater good.
Yet the solution is not only to be found in replacing political hacks with individuals of substance, it is also systemic.
Until the country’s outdated political framework allows the government to govern without the straitjacket of a patchwork coalition, we are unlikely to make much progress diplomatically, or in solving the myriad of issues continually polarizing society. It is hardly an attractive environment for those with ambition, efficiency and achievement.
Unless the gap is bridged, expect our finest to continue making their mark outside public office, sitting largely on the sidelines of national debate.
Katsav’s conviction is a reminder of the extent to which power can be abused if left unchecked and in the wrong hands. Some have emphasized that the judges’ verdict reaffirms Israel’s commitment to equality before the law.
It is no more than a crumb of comfort.
Until we can take pride in the achievements of our political elite rather than their downfall, we must ask how much longer we can afford to wait for a new cadre of leaders.
The writer is a communications professional based in Tel Aviv.