The arrests of the mayor of Kiryat Malachi and his deputy on suspicion of rape and extortion have dealt yet another blow to the public image of elected officials in Israel.
As if the political flip-flops that were flipping and flopping all over the Knesset over the last week weren't enough, this arrest served as one more painful, heart-wrenching reminder of the corruption that lurks everywhere for those in power. It is not unavoidable, but, unfortunately, it is the reality. Difficult, painful, shocking.
"Politics and morals don't go together," one of Israel's most exemplary politicians said decades ago. This miserable remark was true at the time, and probably applies today as well.
The parade of corrupt politicians — ministers, MKs, heads of municipalities, rabbis, judges, presidents and prime ministers — is getting longer and longer. It is truly terrifying. Every day there is another public figure under investigation, and the end is nowhere in sight.
Bribery, rape, indecent acts, forgery, fraud, breach of trust, drugs — these are just a few of the crimes that Israel's public figures have been convicted of over the last few decades.
True, this phenomenon is not unique to Israel, but one expects higher standards from a Jewish nation that is supposed to follow "the precepts of liberty, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel" as our Declaration of Independence states.
At times it seems that we have gotten a little lost. Instead of arriving at the "city of righteousness, the faithful city" (Isaiah 1:26) and "only to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God" (Micah 6:8), we have arrived at the wrong address in the first chapter of the book of Isaiah. There it says, "Thy princes are rebellious, and companions of thieves; every one loveth bribes, and followeth after rewards; they judge not the fatherless, neither doth the cause of the widow come unto them" (Isaiah 1:23).
What is it about power that corrupts the people who possess it? Is it not possible to serve as a mayor, MK or minister and retain a moral code, honesty and integrity?
Obviously the majority of our elected officials and public servants, both nationally and locally, are honest, innocent emissaries of the public who serve its interests faithfully. But the minority — and, sadly, it is growing rapidly — is beginning to cast a dark shadow over the whole.
Our sages have already taught us that the greater a man's evil inclinations, the greater the man's capabilities. Judging from the evil inclinations of the officials who roam the halls of Israel's government offices, we have apparently been blessed with especially great leaders.
Criminal penalties aren't enough to resolve this problem of abhorrent corruption. Punishment is good for deterrence and for setting standards, but it must be accompanied by a parallel system of ethics, to be meticulously and voluntarily observed — not out of a fear of the police. Such a system would define norms for what is acceptable, and not just what is permitted by law; what is "not done" and not just what is forbidden.
Some 10 years ago, former Supreme Court Justice and Attorney-General Prof. Yitzhak Zamir was appointed to head a committee charged with outlining a new code of ethics for MKs. The committee convened many times, completed its work and submitted its report to the Knesset for approval, where it is gathering dust until this very day. The members of Knesset refuse to subject themselves to the report's recommendations, even though they cooperated in their formulation.
A committee appointed to formulate a code of ethics for municipal officials has also recently completed its work.
Public figures would be wise to adopt this code of ethics as soon as possible, and behave accordingly. If they do, they may be able to disperse some of the menacing, slimy corruption cloud that hangs over them — and us — and threatens to turn Israel into a banana republic. Even if it is too little too late, it's better that than never.