One despairs of identifying a leading figure in this country who is not the subject of a police investigation, an indictment, a criminal trial; or a citizens' movement wanting to bring charges.
The presidency is largely, but not entirely a symbolic position. The police began to investigate when Moshe Katzav complained that a former employee was threatening blackmail. The police have now put on the desk of the attorney general (a professional official who decides about indictments) recommendations to charge the president with several counts of rape, and other incidences of sexual harassment.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been the subject of several inquiries by the State Comptroller involving real estate transactions that may have been disguised cases of improper payments, for political appointments while he was Minister of Trade and Industry, and for altering the details of a tender concerned with the sale of government shares in a major bank when he was acting finance minister. The alteration is said to have provided substantial advantages to one bidder favored by Olmert. The State Comptroller has said that he suspects the prime minister of violating criminal law with respect to political appointments and the tender, and recommends continued investigation by the police.
Haim Ramon,Justice Minister until a few months ago, is on trial for indecent assault. It concerns a French kiss implanted in a female soldier who may have wanted to be kissed, but not with the penetration of the minister's tongue.
Tzachi Hanegbi, the chair of the Knesset Committee on Foreign Affairs and Security, (perhaps the most prestigious of the Knesset Committees), has been indicted for his involvement in political appointments when he was Minister of the Environment.
Shimon Peres, a candidate for the presidency (assuming that the office becomes vacant in the near future), with a political career extending over 60 years, several stints as prime minister, and a Nobel Peace Prize, is under investigation for having received improper contributions from an overseas supporter.
Avigdor Lieberman, the head of Israel our Home political party, and a minister in an expanded Olmert-led government, is under investigation for problematic business dealings overseas.
Omri Sharon, former Member of Knesset, son and principal advisor of the former prime minister, is awaiting the beginning of a 9-month jail term for illegal financing involved in one of his father's political campaigns.
Shlomo Benizri, Member of Knesset and formerly Minister of Health and Minister of Labor and Social Welfare, has been indicted for accepting bribes.
Amir Peretz, head of the Labor Party and Minister of Defense, is under a cloud, or worse, with respect to use of Labor Federation funds, when he headed that organization, to support his primary campaign for leadership of the Labor Party.
Most of these charges concern politicking defined as improper by current statutes. Included here are violations or evasions of campaign financing, or using office to appoint supporters to public positions, or favoring supporters in quest of government benefits. If the essence of politics is financing an election campaign and doing favors for those who help one's career, then much of this is within shouting distance of politics as usual. Under this umbrella are the charges involving Olmert, Peres, Hanegbi, Omri Sharon, Peretz, and Benizri.
If some of this behavior is now technically illegal in Israel, then it reflects efforts to improve the way the public's business is conducted, and to outlaw what had been conventional behavior 20 or 30 years ago. At least some of these behaviors are within the gray areas condemned, but practiced and even tolerated in Great Britain, Canada, France, the United States, Italy, Germany, and other decent places.
The charge against Lieberman stems party from continued involvement in his homeland, the less than squeaky clean former Soviet Union, as well as his outspoken postures against Palestinians, Israeli Arabs, and leftists that has won him numerous enemies as well as some intense supporters.
The charges of sexual harassment or indecent assault against Haim Ramon has brought forth intense language on both sides from Israeli women prominent as feminists. Some say the charge is trivial; some say that the woman initiated advances; others say that any overstepping of what a woman wants deserves a severe penalty. The issue is currently before the judges.
How many democracies can claim to have their president accused of several counts of rape as well as less severe sexual offenses? Stories about John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson relate to years ago; Bill Clinton and a host of French politicians were more discreet or elegant than Moshe Katzav. His case is not resolved, but has already led to the president absenting himself from ceremonial duties when the subjects of the ceremony said they would not appear with him. Ultimately we may see criminal charges, and perhaps some jail time. It appears to be beyond the point where the president could plead being the captive of an illness, promise to seek treatment, and resign without a criminal indictment.
David ben Gurion once said that Israel would be a normal country when it had Jewish thieves and prostitutes.
In all likelihood it was already normal when he said that. Now we can ponder whether our politics are within the normal range of western democracies, and how to assure that subsequent presidents are closer to the norms considered desirable.