The local elections taking place in Israel Tuesday are a test and will answer the fundamental question of whether Israeli citizens intend to continue the process of fixing society's value system, or if corruption will continue to flourish. As someone who researches government corruption, I see it as an existential threat to the cohesion of Israeli society. It is only through this cohesion that Israel will be able to face present and future challenges.
Government corruption has been part of the state from its inception. It began in the black market, continued with the offering of favors to Mapai politicians and to the wealthy with party ties, culminating in personal corruption, the result of unrestrained greed rampant in the mid-1970s. Prisons in Israel have had the honor of hosting senior ministers, Knesset members and public officials. The tax authority underwent a hostile takeover, wheelers and dealers infested the offices of prime ministers and cruel historical decisions were made on the basis of personal interests.
In recent years Israeli citizens expressed, in their multitude of ways, their revulsion at the conduct of corrupt government bodies. The central government has taken some action and significant lessons have been learned. It is possible this has also come at the cost of exchanging extreme misconduct for extreme purity. This is the price that people often pay to reach a balance of worthy behavioral norms.
Today the brunt of corruption is in the local municipalities. The financial interests at the municipal level are considerable. It is natural that the corrupt have gathered there. There is real reason to believe that the local municipal framework has been infiltrated by organized crime with a clear hierarchy and mafia-like methods of operation.
Innocent civilians or those playing dumb wrongly believe that to get a step up through the local municipality, in Israeli bureaucracy, they must act deceptively, unethically and by cutting corners. Moreover, citizens are willing to forgive municipal heads suspected of criminal activity because they serve with the help of wheelers and dealers who are to be rewarded for their achievements.
Civilians who come to terms with corruption need to internalize that it will hurt them and their quality of life. Those who provide open-ended construction permits, who employ contract workers to get rid of garbage on the basis of fixed tenders, who turn a blind eye to illegal construction, ultimately hurt all the city's residents.
Many mayors, past and present, have already proved that it is impossible to manage and advance a city with integrity and fairness, and the residents of these cities have known how to exact revenge at the voting stations. Those who vote in these local elections for candidates suspected of serious crimes become their accessories, because the candidate cannot be more corrupt than those who vote for him. Those who vote for candidates funded by convicted criminals who have served prison sentences or have been indicted flush the welfare of their city down the toilet. Such mayors will always be indebted to those who propped them up and supported their candidacies.
It is clear to anyone with sense that the election results in Jerusalem, Bat Yam, Lod and Ramat Hasharon will be an unequivocal answer to the question that refuses to subside: Shall we be like Sodom and Gomorrah, as Isiah says, or shall Zion be redeemed with justice, and they that return of her with righteousness?