The Jewish State is an unusual place. It indicts its leaders and occasionally even locks them behind bars. Former Israeli president Moshe Katsav was found guilty of “rape, sexual harassment, committing an indecent act while using force, harassing a witness and obstruction of justice”. He was sentenced to seven years in prison. Veteran Israeli PM Ehud Olmert was convicted of two counts of bribery and was also sent to prison. Yesterday Israel’s attorney general published his decision to indict Mr Netanyahu on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in connection with three cases.
Israel is tough on its leaders. It is certainly tougher than Britain that has so far failed to charge Tony Blair with war crimes or the USA that similarly failed to indict George Bush for launching an illegal war*. Yet Israel is far from an ethical realm. It is institutionally racist towards the indigenous people of the land as well as African immigrants, and it is also abusive to its poor. Israel is occasionally accused of gross war crimes. One may wonder why a criminal state with such an appalling record is so harsh with its leaders.
Zionism is one possible answer. Zionism, in its early days, was contemptuous of ‘the Jews.’ It promised to civilise the chosen people by means of ‘homecoming.’ The following comments weren’t made by Adolf Hitler or a member of the Nazi party but by some of the most dedicated early Zionists:
The wealthy Jews control the world, in their hands lies the fate of governments and nations. They set governments one against the other. When the wealthy Jews play, the nations and the rulers dance. One way or the other, they get rich.” (Theodor Herzl, Deutsche Zeitung, as cited by an Israeli documentary)
‘The Jew is a caricature of a normal, natural human being, both physically and spiritually. As an individual in society he revolts and throws off the harness of social obligations, knows no order nor discipline.’ (Our Shomer ‘Weltanschauung’, Hashomer Hatzair, December 1936, p.26. As cited by Lenni Brenner)
‘The enterprising spirit of the Jew is irrepressible. He refuses to remain a proletarian. He will grab at the first opportunity to advance to a higher rung in the social ladder.’ (The Economic Development of the Jewish People, Ber Borochov, 1916)
The harsh treatment of Israeli politicians by the Israeli media and judicial system is inspired by that Zionist promise. Israel wants to be ‘a state like all other states.’ It wants its politicians to be ethical and behave with dignity. But the Israeli people aren’t sure about the importance of such trappings. Mostly, they could care less whether the judicial system or the media approve of their leaders’ ethical records.
Ariel Sharon’s political career didn’t come to an end after the massacre in Sabra and Shatila. The Kahan Commission that was formed to probe Israeli involvement in that colossal crime found that the IDF was indirectly responsible and that Sharon, who was then the Defense Minister, bore personal responsibility for the massacre. The commission recommended the removal of Sharon from his post as Defense Minister. These findings did not stop Sharon political career, as we know, he went on to become Israel’s prime minister a few years later.
Aryeh Deri, a prominent Israeli politician and king maker was convicted of taking bribes while serving as Interior Minister. He was given a three-year jail sentence in 2000. Of course Deri was able to return to politics, and was re-elected to the Knesset in 2013 and resumed his role as a key political player.
As much as early Zionism promised to change the people of Israel, the people themselves haven’t been keen of turning into something totally foreign to their true nature. Despite yesterday’s polls that suggest that Netanyahu’s support has dropped following the decision to indict him, it is likely that within a few days we will find that Netanyahu’s support is rising.
This response to findings of criminal behaviour enlightens the dialectical clash between what the Israelis ‘are’ and the image they insist upon attributing to themselves.
Israelis love to see themselves as a dignified Western civilisation guided by law and order. They avidly sell this image to the world; but in reality the Jewish state is a an abusive tribal ghetto ran by oligarchs and underworld characters. Israel is at least ‘democratic’ enough to bring this contradiction to light. Its parliament is saturated with enough convicted criminals that Wikipedia dedicated a page to them, titled “List of Israeli public officials convicted of crimes or misdemeanors”.
* Needless to mention, Israel sends its politicians to jail for bribery but also does not prosecute war crimes as much as it should.