When do our decision makers take responsibility?
Op-ed: Even if we assume our politicians weren’t aware of the corruption taking place around them or that they are naïve people who can be fooled and maneuvered into making weighty decisions, the fact that a person is innocent doesn’t mean he is fit for his job; it simply means he isn’t totally unfit.
Israel is full of corruption. This isn’t small corruption. According to suspicions, this corruption steals and pays a bribe for strategic submarines worth hundreds of millions with many detainees and more to come. This corruption involves ties between government and capital, as well as benefits and alleged corruption of fake companies and fraud among public servants, like the heads of the prime minister’s bureau.
The politicians, for some reason, have been enjoying a convenient delay in their investigations so far. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hasn’t even been summoned to testify in the submarine affair, and Minister Yuval Steinitz, whose associates are believed to be neck-deep in the affair, has only now been summoned to testify. Steinitz is considered a decent individual and it’s hard to find anyone in the political system who believes he was involved in the affair, so why did it take so long to ask him to provide his version?
These officials have been given priceless time in legal terms, time which they could have made good use of, and they likely used that time for consultations and other tactics.
But let’s bring in the presumption of innocence. They didn’t know anything and didn’t hear anything. Everything took place over their heads, under their noses, around their ears. Nothing seemed strange. It was all random—the cousin, the political assistant, the bureau chiefs.
Let’s assume that our politicians are these naïve people who can be fooled and manipulated into making weighty decisions. Let’s assume they’re all completely innocent—not just Steinitz and Netanyahu, but also Avigdor Lieberman in the Yisrael Beytenu affair, who allegedly knew nothing about the shady deals taking place in his party. This presumption of innocence is necessary, but the public world shouldn’t be measured exclusively by criminal tools of an offense, consciousness and a mental basis. The fact that a person is innocent doesn’t mean he is fit for his job; it simply means he isn’t totally unfit.
When and where does the responsibility of the decision maker, whose associates and workers have been exposed as completely corrupt, begin? Let’s assume he isn’t involved. Doesn’t he take any responsibility. Not the criminal responsibility of going to jail, but the responsibility of facing the public and explaining how this all happened around him and he, such a fool, didn’t know about it?
A rotten apple is sometimes uncovered in every bureau, in every corporation. There are thieves and people who take bribes everywhere. But what happens when this is the corporate culture, a culture of lies, fraud and theft? What happens to a CEO whose company suffers one embezzlement after another, all by people that he chose, again and again, year after year?
The answer is that Israelis should demand more. Clouds of criminal suspicions can gather over decision makers, but if their political life is a collection of entanglements by a hair’s breadth, if they are regularly surrounded by relatively dubious people, and of course if things develop into proof of regular criminal acts among their associates—politicians must take responsibility. If they are unable to maintain a clean environment, free of offenses, they are in the wrong profession and we are wrong to elect them. The fact that they’re not involved is insufficient. The public question—again, not the legal question—is what have you done to obey the command of “having a pure camp”?
And here’s a recommendation for the prosecution authorities. The most important protest in Israeli history took place after the Yom Kippur War and the Agranat Report. The feeling was that the commission had tried to place the entire blame for the failure on the military echelons, essentially clearing the politicians or any mishandling or wrongdoing. The rift wasn’t just a result of the war, but of the recognition that the government—led by the Labor Alignment—wanted to go on as if nothing had happened, without any accountability, and that the state commission of inquiry wasn’t unbiased. There was a loss of faith in the entire system, and it led to a major crisis which ended, of course, with the 1977 political upheaval.
In order to bring politicians to justice, there is a need for determination in the prosecution, there is a need to act vigorously and urgently, to leave no stone unturned, to leave suspects with no time to coordinate their versions or publicly obstruct justice. Justice must not only be served, it must also be seen.
If we get the impression that the political system’s scapegoats are the only ones getting caught, and that the senior officials are conveniently getting away, it would serve as a very serious blow to the Israeli faith in the law and legal system and a critical blow to the necessary war on corruption.
Nadav Eyal is Channel 10's chief international correspondent.