Wednesday 7 March 2018

Corruption and Israeli Democracy

Accusations of corruption and behaviour unbefitting of a person acting in a position of trust as a minister or prime minister of the country have been circulating around Prime Minister Netanyahu for some time.  The stories and accusations are not new.  Things did, however, take a different turn over the past couple of weeks.  The recommendation by the police to the attorney-general that the prime minister should be indicted on charges of corruption, bribery and breach of trust in two of the cases has put a different complexity on this sorry case.  This, added to a new story and set of accusations coming out of the woodwork with a former close associate of the prime minister turning state witness, has served to tighten the squeeze on Netanyahu and those around him.  The accusations made by the new state witness, Shlomo Filber, sound almost inconceivable.  If only a small proportion of the accusations are proven to be true, it would make place Netanyahu in an untenable position regarding his ability to continue to serve as prime minister.

For now, however, that is all that they are.  Accusations.  The stories sound like they could come from a far-flung land where there is no consideration for rule of law or fiduciary responsibility towards those who elected the prime minister into office.  Many of them are corroborated by people who are seemingly unrelated to each other, and are reported to have been repeated in different situations involving different people and issues.  In the way that they have been presented, the stories sound almost like they could be true.  Any objective person with a high level ability to assess fact from fiction could easily be convinced that the accusations are all based on truth.  And yet, we still do not know.   We do not know because the stories have yet to be verified by an objective court of law that was set up for the purpose of evaluating the credibility and truth of such accusations.  All we know is that certain people, not an insignificant number of people, have the incentive to publicly tell stories of bribery, corruption and betrayal about the prime minister and his associates, while others have the incentive to defend them.  That is as much as we know.  Nothing more.  So how can it be that a democracy allows public officials to be charged, vilified and castigated in public like this, when no formal charges have been laid, and when there is no attempt to bring them before a duly constituted court of law?

Don't get me wrong.  I have listened to and read about the accusations of bad behaviour on the part of the prime minister, his wife, members of his family and others in his close circle.  It seems inconceivable to me that such stories could be made up by people, purely for the intention of weakening or unseating the prime minister.  It seems unbelievable that seemingly similar patterns of behaviour could be concocted by so many different people from different spheres of life and with different interests.  It seems to me that, where there is smoke, there is fire.  And I am a great believer in elected officials being held accountable for all their actions, good and bad.  I am also a great believer in the basic democratic tenet that everybody is innocent until proven guilty by a duly established court of law to examine the particular issues.  If the accusations are so convincing, and if the police have recommended on the basis of evidence in their possession that there is a case to answer, why is the case not being answered?

I am not sure of the answer to this question, but I remain convinced of a few other important aspects of our democracy.  I believe that the trial by public opinion is wrong, and wholly undemocratic.  It is my view that all the investigations that are being conducted into the prime minister's behaviour, should have taken place behind closed doors.  Until the moment that the attorney-general is ready to formally lay legal charges to be answered in a court of law, I think that the details of all that we have been bombarded with, should have been kept away from the public eye.  Instead, we have experienced a trial by public kangaroo court, and directed by the press.  All of the protagonists in this sordid affair, including those who have been accused, the accusers, those involved around the edges, the press and the general public seem to have some axe to grind on the issue of the prime minister and his family.  It is difficult to work out who we should believe, as more and more unbelievable stories surface daily.  The country seems to be split almost down the middle between those who support the prime minister and wish to see him stay in office, as opposed to those who wish to see him unseated, jailed and consigned to political purgatory.

In addition to holding our public officials up to the light and expecting them to be fully accountable to the voting public for their actions in office, our democracy should also protect them against unreasonable and frivolous claims that could damage them and our democracy.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has effectively been rendered incapable of carrying out his highly important prime ministerial duties, as he is spending most of his time these days bring questioned, defending his character against the accusations, and trying to influence the public about the nature of these accusations.  Who is running our country and keeping it secure while he is worrying about the next story that accuses him of inappropriate behaviour?  If the attorney-general considers the police investigation to have produced a case for the prime minister to answer in court, Netanyahu should resign his position and answer the accusations against him.  If it turns out that the court does not find the accusations against him worthy of a guilty verdict, he should be able to return to the prime minister's office to resume his duties.

Israeli democracy should not tolerate corruption of public officials under any circumstances.  It should also protect them while in office against any attempts to disturb their ability to carry out their jobs.  The democratic process should determine that, at a certain point, elected officials should be relieved of their duties to allow them to answer properly-constituted charges that have sufficient basis to believe that they have a reasonable possibility of being upheld by a court.  Until that moment, they should be allowed to get on with their job.

In my opinion, democracy goes both ways.  At the moment, we are suffering the worst of all situations that a democracy gives us.  The people of Israel deserve more, and it has come time to examine our system to ensure that democracy for us protects both the state and the individuals, rather than the unsavoury and undesirable position that our country current finds itself in.

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