Different takes on Israel's political scandals

Talk to an Israeli about our recent wave of scandals and official resignations and you will hear expressions of outrage or dismay. A newspaper editorial-page cartoon, above, shows three deposed officials. The Hebrew sign on the empty chair states, "Reserved." The question is who will be next to fall. The figures in the cartoon are, from left, former Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, the highest official so far to resign in the aftermath of the 2006 Lebanon war; former Justice Minister Haim Ramon, convicted of kissing a woman against her will; and former Police Commissioner Moshe Karadi, who stepped down only hours after an investigative commission reported on underworld penetration of law enforcement. Various groups are demanding that others resign, including our prime minister, our defense minister and our president. Our president, accused of rape, refuses to resign. He faces a hearing May 2 to determine whether he is to be indicted. Meanwhile, he is on a three-month leave of absence. Israelis have been saying that these cases embarrass and depress them. They express concern about how the revelations may be affecting the country's youth. Polls show the public is worried about corruption and dissatisfied with its leaders. I have encountered only one person who has a good word to say about what has been going on. As you might expect, this person is not an Israeli. He is a diplomat in a western embassy, a professional analyst who has spent the past few years observing Israel. In conversation, he sums up what he has learned about us. "I'm impressed," he says. What impresses him, he explains, is that Israel has shown that it is prepared to call its highest officials to account. "Other countries don't do this," he adds. He mentions the investigations of former Prime Minister Sharon and his two sons. He cites other examples including the former justice minister's conviction on sex-offense charges as well as the case against the president. Maybe some of the accused Israelis did what their accusers claim, I suggest. "That's not the point," says the foreign analyst. "The point is that no one is above the law here." This makes Israel different from other countries, he repeats. Who sees our reality more clearly? Is it Israel's disgusted citizens, whose involvement makes them sensitive to corruption and failure? Or is it the embassy analyst? His emotional distance allows him to perceive Israel's strength in dealing with its officials' shortcomings. The foreign analyst, who is heading to another Middle East posting, offers another observation about Israel. Things change fast here, he says. He gives a non-political example of how this can affect what we think we see. A store will go out of business, and almost immediately a new shop with entirely different merchandise will open in the same place. No sign remains of what had been there only days before. Israelis are used to a fast pace in public life, too. This may be one reason that few people take to the streets in protest while polls show that many harbor strong feelings. Israelis know that the problem of the day may have a short life, and that something new and surprising could happen tomorrow. --- Joseph M. Hochstein, Tel Aviv


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