Member of Knesset Haim Ramon missed 161 days of work. The Knesset regulations state clearly how many days a member is allowed to be absent as well as how he is to be penalized: His salary may be reduced. When he was charged, Ramon resigned from the cabinet and he suspended himself from the Knesset for the duration of his trial and, following his conviction on a sexual offense, the duration of his sentence requiring community service. An unsuspecting reader, if there are any left in Israel, may think that this self-imposed suspension was a penance that Ramon took upon himself, or perhaps it was a sense of shame that led Ramon to absent himself from the legislature. But now we know, it was not penance and it was not shame, it was just a long vacation with full pay, at public expense, and he has neither enough shame nor conscience to willingly return these wages to the state treasury.
And as we have now mentioned the treasury, this brings to mind the case of Avraham Hirschzon, who was until recently the finance minister, and was forced to resign because of the criminal charges against him. He has also not been seen in the Knesset lately. According to the Ramon precedent, he is also likely to receive full pay for the long vacation he is taking. There is no reason to assume that he will voluntarily return his salary to the state treasury; and neither the law nor a sense of honesty or justice will compel him to do so. It seems those who are accustomed to making personal withdrawals from the public coffers find it very difficult to do the opposite. Haim Ramon even considers himself worthy of being the next finance minister. It appears that Prime Minister Olmert, who has been forbidden by a legal ruling from continuing as acting finance minister – because he is the subject of ongoing criminal investigations – sees no problem appointing Ramon; and were it not for fear of the public’s reaction, he would have done so long ago.
This trio – Olmert, Ramon, and Hirschzon – regard the state treasury as their private goldmine and probably don’t understand all the petty charges being made against them. They control budgets of hundreds of billions and we want them to return tens of thousands. And they must wonder, why should they return money to their treasury? – They would see it as moving money from one pocket to another.
The Knesset Ethics Committee should have filled the moral vacuum in a place where Haim Ramon and his friends stand, but it has done nothing. I know the members of the committee. They are all people of conscience with clean backgrounds, but I cannot accept this failure on their part. I cannot but upbraid my friends. In a place where there are no men, they should have been men.
Several days ago during a graduation ceremony at Bar Ilan University’s Law School, Manny Mazuz, the government’s legal advisor, delivered an important speech. He spoke about the crisis in leadership, about a country with so many leaders who have been delivered a sort of Miranda warning, about leaders who are suspended and public officials for whom the interrogation room has a revolving door, and about the public’s feeling that the country is losing its values and moving towards collective despair. He reminded the young law graduates about the parable of Yotam in the book of Judges, how all the good fruitful trees refused to be kings, and only the thorny bush, the bramble, agreed to be king (Judges 9:7-15).
Mazuz called upon his listeners to act, not to find excuses to be self-absorbed, but to join the ranks of those fighting despair and corruption and working to resolve this crisis of leadership. But Manny Mazuz played an important role in creating this crisis the moment he resolved not to press charges against Ariel Sharon, though he knew well about the latter’s corruption. Now he can correct today, perhaps, a little bit of what he did in the past. He can uproot the thorny bramble ruling over us before fire comes out of it and devours the few trees left among us. Mazuz needs to be a man, by stepping out of the circle of those who merely despair and complain about the crisis of leadership – he can do this by removing from the stage the leaders who are found in the revolving door of the interrogation room, and those who have been convicted in courts of law and who are now returning through a back door, to once again dip their hands in the public coffers. Where Manny Mazuz stands there needs to be a man. If he once again refrains from taking action, he will continue to be part of the problem not the solution.
Literally and figuratively, these are hot days in Israel and fires are breaking out all over. Only a few firefighters are fighting the flames. Winograd, Mazuz, Lindenstrauss, the investigatory legal and ethical institutions all should be uprooting the thorns and weeds, but it seems that all of them are waiting for someone else to do it.
All the paths lead to that same thorny bramble, and the people of Israel are still waiting for the man who will come and uproot it – while there is still time, before the great fire.