A shameful day, but not as bad as it looks

By Uri Dromi, September 3, 2009

September 1, 2009, marked the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War, a day for remembrance and reflection. In Israel, however, this was a day when people were only thinking about the present, asking themselves whether their country could go any lower.

In a single day, two former ministers went to jail, one for graft and the other for money embezzlement; a former Prime Minister was indicted for fraud, breach of trust and more; and a former president, who allegedly couldn’t keep his trousers on, was facing in court a woman who had worked for him and who had complained he had sexually harassed her.

Those of us old enough to remember other days could only nod their heads with sorrow. Yitzhak Ben Zvi, the second president of Israel, once returned from his vacation to find out that in his absence the government had raised his salary.

The angry president insisted that his salary should be reduced to the former level.

And Menachem Begin, until he was elected Prime Minister in 1977, lived in the same modest — almost austere — apartment in Tel Aviv, where he used to hide from the Brits in mandatory times.

No need to over-romanticise, though. There was corruption in the past, and maybe we knew less about it, because the Israeli press, up till the Yom Kippur War, was pretty docile.

In the past, however, if politicians were stealing, they were stealing for the party; today, those who steal are stealing for themselves.

September 1, let us not forget, was also the first day in school. More than 1.5 million pupils entered the classes, some of them for the first time in their lives.

Their most important lesson of the day, however, was not taught in the class but rather in the newspapers and on the television screens.

The message — more powerful than anything their teachers could have ever delivered — was clear: you can’t break the law and get away with it, even if you’re a prime minister or president.

Like a body struggling with a disease, Israel is now fighting corruption.

It is reassuring to realise that our society is healthy, after all. We have the rule of law, we have free and vibrant press, and we have the determination to cleanse ourselves of this curse.

September 1st, then, wasn’t such a bad day, after all.

Uri Dromi is a columnist based in Jerusalem

Last updated: 12:19pm, September 3 2009