[Freemanlist2] Prof. Paul Eidelberg-Corruption in Israel

Freeman Center For Strategic Studies bernards at sbcglobal.net
Thu Apr 15 17:39:27 CDT 2010



   
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Corruption in Israel 
  
Prof. Paul Eidelberg 
  
International reports have indicated that Israel ranks second, just behind Italy, in official corruption among developed nations.  I wonder whether Italy has been shortchanged. 
  
It seems to me that former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and former Israeli president Ezer Weisman are only the most conspicuous Israeli officials suspected of corruption.  Prima facie evidence indicates that three other prime ministers and two other presidents of Israel may merit that obloquy—which is surely the case of a several Israeli cabinet ministers in the recent past. 
  
Apart from personal character flaws, is there something about Israel’s system of government that conduces to corruption?  Absolutely! 
  
(1) The mere fact Israel makes the entire country a single electoral district necessitates the parliamentary system of Proportional Representation (PR).  This compels citizens to vote for party lists or slates rather than individual candidates.  One consequence is that Knesset Members (MKs) are not individually accountable to the voters in constituency elections. This electoral system conduces to corruption, because MKs do not have to compete against rival candidates who would obviously have a personal motive, as well as a civic responsibility, to expose the flaws or incompetence of an incumbent or aspiring MK. 
  
(2) Given a low electoral threshold (currently 2 percent), PR multiplies the number of parties competing in an election—more than 30 in the last election!  This arrangement inclines an MK to be very much concerned about how his vote on a bill will affect his place or ranking on his party’s list.  His place on his party’s list is obviously crucial to his political career and political longevity. This fact will influence his political judgment on issues of nation concern.  Suffice to mention how 29 MKs hopped over to rival parties in the 1999 election to obtain a more favorable position of their party’s list.  
  
(3) Moreover, PR or the absence of constituency elections enabled 23 Likud MKs to violate their pledge to the nation in the January 2003 election by voting for “unilateral disengagement” from Gaza he following year. (I doubt this betrayal was considered by any international body that assesses corruption in the democratic world.) 
  
(4) Now, it’s obvious that the multiplicity of parties spawned by Proportional Representation virtually prevents any party in Israel from winning a majority of the votes in any election.  Forming a government therefore requires a coalition of five or more rival parties.  These rival parties are, or tend to be, more concerned about dividing the spoils of office than the national good—as David Ben-Gurion complained many decades ago in his Memoirs. 
(5)  By producing a plural executive consisting of rival political parties, PR undermines the all-important democratic principle of accountability—as we saw in the debacle of the Second War in Lebanon.  Some faulted Likud Prime Minister Olmert; others faulted Labor Defense Minister Amir Peretz.  Virtually none but the present writer faulted the SYSTEM of Proportional Representation and its direct consequence, multiparty cabinet government! 
  
(6) Multiparty cabinet government is not only incapable of pursing coherent and resolute national policies.  In the absence of constituency elections, PR injects part of the legislative branch of government into the executive branch.  This absence of separation of powers precludes effective institutional checks and balances, an obvious cause of corruption. 
  
(7) By definition, many of the parties produced by PR are single-issue oriented.  A few parties may win two or three seats in the Knesset, which may be enough to decide the passage of a law.  This increases the probability that a vote of one small party will be bought by a major party.  If the Obama administration had to buy a few votes to pass his health care bill in a legislative assembly consisting of only two or three parties, buying one or two votes in a Knesset consisting of 12 or 13 parties is a snap.  That’s exactly what the Rabin government did to implement the disastrous Oslo Accords.  All it cost was to give an MK a deputy ministership and perhaps a Mitsubishi. 
  
Now, to avoid misunderstanding, I am not saying that there are institutional substitutes for virtue.  All institutions can do—but that’s a lot—is reduce the number opportunities that may prompt imperfect human beings to go astray and betray the public trust.  I have repeatedly said and demonstrated year after year that Israel’s political institutions readily foster the vices of men and thereby maximize official corruption in the one and only Jewish state.  This corruption trickles down.  It encourages corruption at other levels of government, indeed, in society at large. 
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