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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

'Tainted with corruption'

A survey by the Israel Democracy Institute finds that nine out of ten Israelis believe that our political system is 'tainted with corruption' and more than half believe that corruptibility is a prerequisite for 'success in the political sphere.' Only one Israeli in one hundred believes that there is no corruption in our country. I guess they surveyed the monks in the Judean desert too :-)
In general, the Israeli public is displaying a growing indifference to politics, the survey found, with only 60 percent showing interest in politics and only 43 percent admitting to discussing politics with their friends and family - down from 73 percent in 2006.

The survey found that for the first time in many years, the public did not rate the Supreme Court as the top institution safeguarding democracy in Israel. Only 49 percent of those polled expressed their trust in the Supreme Court, as opposed to 61 percent in 2007.

The study also gauged the public's assessment of various institutions, placing the IDF at the head of the list of institutions which the public trusts the most at 71 percent. Confidence in the president rose from 22 percent in 2007 to 47 percent. [That's because the more politically astute Shimon Peres replaced serial sex offender Moshe Katsav as President (pictured, right) in the past year. CiJ] Approval of the police fell significantly, from 41 percent in 2007 to 33 percent. [I'm amazed their approval rating is that high. CiJ]

A meager 17 percent expressed trust in the prime minister.

The survey found that the public's general level of satisfaction with Israeli democracy rose to 43 percent - up from 34 percent in the 2007 index. The survey also showed that a sizeable majority - 80 percent - of citizens is very proud to be Israeli, and 83 percent said that they want to continue living in Israel in the long term.

"It should be pointed out that these findings primarily attest to an emotional loyalty to the state and homeland, and less to respondents' feelings about the present situation," the report said.

"We are in a very dangerous situation," IDI head Dr. Arik Carmon said. "Israelis are turning their back on politics, rejecting politicians and expressing no-confidence in central institutions, to an extent that endangers Israeli politics."

"Elected officials must realize that they are serving the public rather than themselves," Peres said and called on the younger generation to go into politics and purge the political sphere "from the inside." He also called for a regional election system that would ensure the election of students in the general elections.
Peres is right about a regional election system being a good idea, but I doubt it would ensure 'the election of students in the general elections' nor do I believe that the election of students is necessarily desirable. On the other hand, regional elections might finally give us some accountable politicians - accountable to the public and not (only) to their parties. But I believe much more radical surgery to be necessary to restore trust in Israel's political system.

The idea of purging the political sphere 'from the inside' won't work. The average Israeli has neither the time nor the resources to run a campaign from inside, and would find himself fighting an uphill battle against a union-like seniority system within the political parties. Throughout this country's history, the Prime Minister has almost always been a man in his 60's or 70's.

The New York Times thought this story worthy of comment.
Early this year, 1,201 adults were queried in Hebrew, Arabic or Russian for the survey, which has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points. It was conducted before a new political scandal broke involving Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Morris Talansky, a 75-year-old Long Island fund-raiser and financier who testified in May that he had given an estimated $150,000, mostly cash stuffed into envelopes, to Mr. Olmert over a period of 13 years.

The findings reflect what some experts call a general crisis of public trust in leadership that affects much of the developed world. But in Israel, a country that was intensely politicized and that still faces acute questions of war and peace each day, the trend is arousing special concern.

“The rise of antipolitical sentiment reaches the point of delegitimizing the political and decision-making processes,” said Arye Carmon, the president of the institute. “It is not only about this person or that — it is the entire system. The Israeli public is turning its back on politics.”

Voter turnout has dropped to an average of 63 percent in 2006 from an average of 77 percent over the last five decades. Some researchers expect that turnout in the next election may not exceed 50 percent.

It is not that Israelis are turning against democracy. Despite the negative feelings revealed by the survey, other indicators show that the public’s commitment to the principles of a democratic system remains strong.

“The irony,” said Ari Shavit, a columnist for the liberal newspaper Haaretz, “is that Israel as a society is the most democratic I know. It is open and free, yet politics went into such decay.”

On the eve of the 2006 elections, about 15 lawmakers from the departing 120-seat Parliament had been indicted or convicted or were under investigation. Just in the governing Kadima Party, which was set up in late 2005, Haim Ramon, a former justice minister, was convicted of forcibly kissing a female soldier [pictured. CiJ]; Tzachi Hanegbi, a former public security minister, is standing trial over a political appointments case; and Abraham Hirchson, Mr. Olmert’s ally and former finance minister, was recently indicted on embezzlement charges.

The latest law enforcement inquiry into Mr. Olmert, in which Mr. Talansky testified in advance of a possible indictment, is one of several involving the prime minister, who has denied any wrongdoing.


“It is an unfortunate situation where being decent becomes such an important characteristic,” said Dan Meridor, a former Likud justice and finance minister who left politics with his reputation for honesty intact. “That should be the most basic requirement of being a politician.”
It should, but it's obviously not. And the average Israeli is reacting with revulsion and resignation to the reality of corruption.


At 6:36 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

The political system encourages corruption because MKs owe their loyalty not to voters but to the party leaders. MKs look the other way then when there is wrong-doing in high places in Israel and there is no mechanism to enforce accountability. So Israel's elites can disregard public opinion and do what they want with impunity. To get decent people to serve in public life, Israel's political institutions are in need of radical surgery. But due to the vest interests of all the major players, that's not likely to happen any time soon.


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