On Corruption and Treason

Israel's political system promotes coruption

Prof. Paul Eidelberg,

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Paul Eidelberg

Part I: Corruption

I have pointed out many times that corruption in Israel's government is not simply the consequence of dishonest politicians.  Political corruption in Israel has been institutionalized; and as I will show in a moment, so has treason!

Some, including Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick, attributes political corruption to the "relative weakness" of the Knesset: "The Knesset's relative weakness is a function of Israel's proportional election system," she writes.  "This system-whereby voters select a party rather than individual candidates at the ballot box-promotes the political fortunes of the corrupt and the weak at the expense of the honest and strong.  Similarly, it prolongs the life span of coalition governments with a tendency toward corruption and failed policy-making, at the expense of coalition governments [sic] informed by principle and the national interest."

But the "weakness" Glick attributes to the Knesset is not solely the result of, and does not begin with, proportional representation.  It begins with the fact that there is a single electoral district in Israel, and this necessitates proportional representation.  (Only four other countries besides Israel - Holland, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Uruguay- uses this system. Of the 84 that do not, 26 are smaller in size and population than Israel!).

Proportional Representation

In addition, Glick overlooks another basic flaw in Israel's political system. She is aware that proportional representation (especially with a low electoral threshold) produces a multiplicity of parties.  But she seems to accept multi-party cabinet government, which, quite apart from the flaws of cabinet ministers which she deplores, conduces to corruption. This is a direct consequence of proportional representation.

First of all, thanks to proportional representation with a low electoral threshold, no party has ever come close to winning a majority of the seats in the Knesset.  This necessitates the formation coalition governments consisting of five or six or more rival parties.  This, as stated, is a basic cause of political corruption-the more so because it increases the frequency Knesset elections and the influence of ill-gotten campaign funding from sources here and abroad.

Second, the cabinets of coalition governments consist of adversarial party leaders to whom the back benchers of the Knesset must defer if they want to have a safe place on their party's election list.  True, the Knesset would not be so weak if its members were accountable to the people in constituency elections; but the Knesset's weakness must also be attributed to multi-party cabinet government.

Finally, Glick fails to mention the fact that proportional representation, by compelling citizens to vote for fixed party slates, opens the door to foreign influence.  As I have often pointed out, fixed party slates make it possible for foreign tycoons to gain control of a party-and even the government's foreign policy-by financing the campaigns of a party leader!

Part II. Treason

Turning to the subject of treason, my point of departure is a May 29 article of Jerusalem Post columnist Evelyn Gordon.

Gordon points out that "several commentators [have] noted the troubling pattern of prime ministers facing legal or political difficulties launching major diplomatic woes: the Washington and Taba negotiations, launched by Ehud Barak after his government collapsed; the disengagement, launched by Ariel Sharon as a police investigation against him gathered steam; and now the Syria talks, launched when Ehud Olmert was already under police investigation and announced soon after a new and potentially more damaging investigation began,"

Gordon contends that "the problem is not that Barak, Sharon and Olmert all acted after becoming embroiled in difficulties; it is that in each case, their actions directly contradicted their own previously stated views of Israel's interests, with no explanation of their about-face.  And that, rather than their legal/political difficulties, per se, is what truly enables suspicions that they are sacrificing Israel's well-being to their political survival" (emphasis added).

Political About-Face: Treason?

Gordon might have added that each of these prime ministers yielded, or offered to yield, Jewish land to Israel's enemies: Barak, 95% of Judea and Samaria; Sharon, the Jewish settlements in Gaza and northern Samaria; Olmert, who, having already adopted Barak's policy regarding Judea and Samaria, now offers Syria the Golan Heights. Thus, Gordon says, the "about-face" of these prime ministers "enables suspicions that they are sacrificing Israel's well-being for their political survival" is a journalistic euphemism.  Suspicions about prime ministers whose acts may constitute violations of the laws of treason.  For example:

1.  The category of acts under section 97(a) which "impair the sovereignty" of  the  State of Israel;

2.  The category of acts under section 99 which give assistance to an "enemy" in war against Israel, which the Law specifically states includes a terrorist organization;

3.  The category of acts in section 100 which evince an intention or resolve to commit one of the acts prohibited by sections 97 and 99.

Knesset Member Arieh Eldad is to be congratulated for saying Prime Minister Olmert's offer to yield the Golan Heights to Syria is nothing less than treason.  But the same crime may be attributed to Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, to say nothing of many other politicians who have been complicit in yielding Jewish land to Israel's enemies.

This treasonous state of affairs is facilitated by Israel's system of coalition cabinet government.  For example: On September 4, 1999, Prime Minister Ehud Barak signed the Sharm e-Sheikh Memorandum with the PLO, yielding to that terrorist organization sovereignty over 95% of Judea and Samaria.  As pointed out by attorney Howard Grief, this agreement entailed grave violations of Israeli law, both procedural and substantive.

Consider only one procedural violation,: Barak did not have prior Cabinet authorization to sign the Sharm e-Sheikh agreement.  Although such "authorization was given afterwards, this reverses," as Grief says, "the order of proper constitutional procedure and turns the Cabinet into a rubber stamp for a fait accompli engineered by the Prime Minister."

Rubber Stamp Cabinet

What makes the Cabinet a rubber stamp, however, is this: If a majority of the cabinet ministers voted against the Prime Minister, the government would almost certainly fall, and these ministers would lose theirs posts and power.  Evident here is exactly what Gordon attributes to the behavior of Prime Ministers Barak, Sharon, and Olmert: that they put their personal interests above the national interest.

Notice that no territorial retreat decided by any government of Israel has ever been voted down by the Knesset.  Can it be because this would result in new elections, which could cost politicians their seats-especially those composing the ruling coalition?

The clearest example of this self-aggrandizement occurred in October 2004, when the Knesset, by a vote of 67 to 45, voted in favor of Sharon's Labor-inspired policy of "unilateral disengagement."  The parties that campaigned against Labor's policy in the January 2003 election won 84 of the Knesset's 120 seats.  Nevertheless, Sharon induced 22 of his Likud colleagues to violate their pledge to the nation by voting in favor of the bill that surrendered 22 Jewish communities in Gaza to Israel's sworn enemies.
Of course, to insinuate that a Prime Minister has committed treason exposes one to the charge of incitement, more precisely, of advocating his assassination.  The specter of Yitzhak Rabin hangs over Israel.  But this is absurd-a bogeyman-for then the law against incitement could be used to shield anyone suspected of treason!

In any event, the lesson to bear in mind is that Israel's system of government conduces not only to corruption.  The system enables politicians to engage in acts that truncate Israel, acts which reasonable men, including lawyers and professors, deem acts of treason.  Yes, and no indictment or punishment follows.