Our prime minister and the investigations he faces, which are again making headlines, prompt a comparison between us and our American friends regarding the way government affairs are managed.
The Clintons’ income tax figures in the past seven years were recently published in the United States. As it turned out, the majority of the immense sum they accumulated ($107 million!) was earned by the former president, mostly thanks to royalties and lectures. However, it also turned out that Bill Clinton made about $15 million from his partnership in a political consulting firm, among other things by offering his services to government of Dubai.
Dubai maintains close ties with the American Administration and two years ago a Dubai government company was about to win a tender for operating US ports. The multi-billion dollar deal was curbed by the Senate in light of harsh criticism from both Left and Right, which objected to handing over port security to an Arab state.
That is, as of January 2001, Hillary Clinton served as a senator on behalf of the Democratic Party while her husband maintained business and political ties, worth plenty of money, with a country whose affairs were presented to the Senate.
There is no doubt that according to what is customary in Israel, we would have seen a comprehensive criminal investigation here along time ago due to “breach of trust” and “conflict of interest,” and nobody would be leaving the Clintons alone until an indictment was served.
Yet none of the Clintons’ archrivals even dared make any claim regarding suspicions of criminal activity. Among the 300 million residents of the US, we couldn’t find even one like our own Ophir Pines who would file a complaint regarding criminal behavior to the attorney general - which here customarily leads to the launch of a police investigation, recommendation to serve an indictment, etc.
Even the Clintons’ harshest critics did not view this matter as a problem and only warned that “if Hillary is elected president we may have conflict of interest here,” that is, there was no problem with her entire tenure as a senator.
Are police over-zealous when it comes to politicians?Is the US more corrupt than Israel? Is Israel more corrupt than the US? Are our leaders overcome by corruption, or are we seeing too much self-righteousness, too much legal interference, and persecution for the sake of persecution? Could it be that the problem stems from the elastic and fluid definition of “breach of trust” under Israeli law?
This definition serves as an opening for turning any conflict of interest situation that may unethical into a criminal offence. Or perhaps the problem stems from the fact that the courts’ interpretation of such offenses is too far-reaching? Or do the State Persecutor’s Office and police show extra motivation or enthusiasm when it comes to public figures?
Whatever the explanation, it appears that when a prime minister is being investigated for years over affairs that have to do with conflict of interest, without him having received anything tangible in return, and in relation to actions that took place before he was elected, while in the US nobody gets overly excited in the face of blatant and unequivocal conflict of interest, it would be proper to look for an explanation for this immense normative gap.
Perhaps Israel is no more corrupt than other countries in the West, as was claimed more than once by Chief Justice Aharon Barak? And perhaps, with all due respect to the war on corruption, the exaggeration and panic that unjustly characterized past “corruption affairs” such as the “Bar-On Hebron” affair or the “Greek Island” affair caused more damage to Israeli society and to the public’s trust in the political system, rather than being a solution to a genuine problem? And so, perhaps it would be better to examine the charges over conflict of interest level-headedly and without needless panic.