Looking back on the legal case against Sharon, I see one important element of the story that has not been sufficiently addressed, if at all. And that is, the complete apathy the great majority of Israelis have shown to the case against Sharon as it developed over the past few months. While the papers had a field day with the accusations, it stirred no passions whatsoever in the general population. I never heard anyone talking about it; there were no demonstrations on the street. And it wasn’t that most Israelis thought Sharon was innocent; they simply did not care whether the man leading them was a criminal or not.
To some extent, of course, that was a result of the complex and technical nature of the accusations against him. No one really understood exactly what he was accused of and so it was hard to feel strongly.
It was also, however, a reflection of just how accepted political corruption has become in Israel, to the extent where it is sometimes even celebrated (eg. Deri). As one friend said to me, “all politicians are corrupt, it’s just a question of how much.” Unfortunately, financial ‘irregularities’ come right at the bottom of that scale – particularly with sums that are not deemed to be huge, although I would warrant they were very large indeed to a military man like Sharon.
Another factor was Sharon’s personal popularity as ‘wartime’ leader, and the fact there’s no obvious replacement in sight. Many Israelis, I think, asked themselves whether it was really worth risking his leadership, and perhaps suffering strategically in the struggle against the Palestinians, over, again, what was perceived as a few ‘minor financial irregularities.' They concluded it wasn’t.
The truth is, of course, that not all politicians are corrupt, and that it makes no difference whether we’re talking about $250,000 or $25m. The crimes Sharon was accused of involved abuse of his governmental position, and thus, betrayal of the people.
Our leaders, like Caesar’s wife, must be above suspicion. If anything, this is more important that ever in times of ‘war,’ when you need to be sure your leaders are basing their decisions on relevant considerations only, and cannot be swayed through their pocketbooks. To be willing to overlook or tolerate corruption, for whatever reason, is to sacrifice the high standards of morality on which Israel was founded and on which it prides itself. If Israelis have lost sight of this, there is something rotten in the state of Israel.