Rot Spreads

Is there a connection between the corruption and venality of the current government and its disastrous conduct of the war in Lebanon?

Before jumping to answer affirmatively, we would do well to remember that history is replete with examples of outstanding leaders whose private lives were far from exemplary, and the opposite. Even virtues do not automatically translate from one realm to another. Israel’s most decorated soldier – a man of outstanding bravery and clear thinking under fire – proved a cowardly and confused prime minister.

Still the ethical lapses of the present Kadima-led government inevitably raise the question of the connection between private and public conduct. At the top of the pyramid of those under investigation or indictment is the prime minister. According to Ha’aretz’s Ari Shavit, Ehud Olmert and his wife will soon be summoned by the State Comptroller to explain why a developer sold him a new apartment for $1,500 less per square meter than it cost him to develop, and for little more than half the per meter price of other apartments in the building. The State Comptroller will want to know whether the half million dollar windfall is related to the highly unusual zoning variances granted the developer by the former mayor’s cronies in the Jerusalem municipality.

Justice Minister Chaim Ramon has already resigned after being indicted. MK Tzahi Hanegbi, head of the powerful Knesset Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense and one of the first to jump from Likud to Kadima, will soon be indicted for using the Environment Ministry in a manner that would have done Boss Tweed of Tammany Hall proud. And the State Comptroller is investigating illegal campaign contributions from American billionaire Daniel Abraham to vice-premier Shimon Peres. (The ubiquitous Abraham purchased the Olmert’s former apartment for almost twice the price per square meter as their new apartment, even though the latter is in a more expensive neighborhood – the kind of favor not soon forgotten.)

Illegality is only part of the issue. Whether or not Chaim Ramon’s stolen kiss was consensual, what could have possessed someone who came into the Justice Ministry brimming with ideas for major reforms to risk his entire public career for the most fleeting of pleasures? And on July 12?

There was nothing illegal about Olmert’s appointment of Amir Peretz as defense minister. But both knew that Peretz was totally unqualified for the post, and that Israel is not a Benelux country that can afford a Defense Minister on training wheels. Forced to choose between his own ego gratification and the national interest in matters of life or death, Peretz chose the former.

Nor did Chief of Staff Dan Halutz break any law when he sold shares three hours after Hizbullah attacked Israel. That he had time to think of his stock portfolio while planning a war in which 150 Israelis would die and a million citizens would be forced to flee their homes does not, however, sit well.

In no country in the world is the overweaning ambition of our politicians on such constant display. They shamelessly rush to proclaim to all and sundry their superior qualifications for the highest position currently available.

HAD OUR LEADERS GUIDED US TO VICTORY, the media, and likely the justice system, would have forgiven their private failings. But the government prosecuted the war like the gang that could not shoot straight, without even trying to achieve its own announced objectives.

Israel has always sought quick victories before the U.N. can step in to save our enemies. This time we pursued a lackadaisical battle plan, as if waiting for the U.N. to step in and save us. After three days, it was clear that trying to take out katyushas from the air is akin to shooting a mosquito with a blunderbuss. Yet it would be more than four more weeks until the IDF undertook large-scale ground operations in the areas where most of the katyushas were located — and then only after the U.N. was poised to vote a ceasefire.

The government squandered a blank-check from the Americans to destroy Hizbullah, the unanimous backing of the citizenry, the fortitude of residents of the North, and the bravery of our soldiers to entrust the security of our northern border to UNIFIL.

RABBI AVRAHAM YESHAYA KARELITZ, universally known as the Chazon Ish, can help explain our leaders’ blindness and lack of resolve. Today the Chazon Ish is known to the secular public, if at all, for his famous meeting with David Ben-Gurion. Yet I never spoke to anyone who knew him who did not consider him the greatest human being he ever met.

Rabbi Shlomo Lorincz once asked the Chazon Ish why he did not hold a certain Torah scholar in the same high esteem that others did. The Chazon Ish replied that the person in question was incapable of rising about his personal self-interest. “A person can have any number of shortcomings and still be considered a great man,” explained the Chazon Ish. “But being thrall to one’s self-interest is different. It is not a singe fault, but an all-encompassing blemish. His teaching of Torah will be tinged with self-interest, his davening will be tinged with self-interest, even his acts of chesed will be tinged with self-interest.”

If one never learns to control one’s desires and ambitions (and apparently jogging does not provide the necessary discipline), one’s thought processes will inevitably be tainted by self-interest. The lifetime habit of viewing each situation through the lens of “What’s in it for me?” corrupted our leaders thought processes and left them unable to focus exclusively on national objectives. Not accidentally, perhaps, did the prime minister make his fortune at a time when Knesset rules permitted MKs to maintain private legal practices – an open invitation to using one’s public position for private gain.

For the moral rot of our leaders, we have paid a high price.

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15 Responses

  1. Bob Miller says:

    Now that we see again that venality in government is bad, where do we find a non-venal majority (not just isolated individuals or small parties)in the Knesset to set things straight? I think the problem goes deeper than the governing clique or Kadima or the Knesset or the courts. The larger Jewish society (and not only in Israel) needs a makeover. Welcome to Elul.

  2. mycroft says:

    The larger Jewish society (and not only in Israel) needs a makeover. Welcome to Elul

    Agreed-In recent posts I believe I have detected something which I don’t recall previously so much in Rabbi Rosenblum’s posts-a big triumphalism of the chareidi way of life vs the medina.
    One need not go to far unfortunately to find corruption in the US or Israel in politics or in religious life.
    I just discussed today with my Israeli sibling-that it appears that a lot of datei leumi people died in the rect war. BTW only one chareidi from the Nahal Chareidi died recently-he was shot while manning a checkpoint in the West Bank. But in genral Tel Aviv and Chareidim did not suffer in the war-surprisingly the Kibbutzim suffered deaths out of proportion to their population. Thus, it appears it is not only the Chareidim who are piggybacking on other groups for their defense.

  3. Aryeh says:

    I’m not so sure that I would look at it in terms of chareidi vs. medina. I would look at it in terms of secular medina (including those in the NRP camp who would value the medina over Torah) vs Torah.
    Mycroft as to your comment about charedim piggybacking on other groups, Torah protects our people no less than tanks. And I’m not sure why you sound surprised at that, that’s obvious as they don’t serve in the army and that’s wasn’t a chiddush that just came out.
    I would suggest the following trade. All of Jewish Israelis should adopt the charedi lifestyle, and then the 10% of the people who study in yeshivos will be drawn equally from the whole society as will the 90% who will serve in the army. That’ll make it fair.

  4. Joel Rich says:

    Perhaps R’ Rosenbloom will identify the Torah Scholar that the Chazon Ish was referring to so we can learn a lesson from his failure (at his level). Perhaps in addition to shining his light on a population that may not take his tochacha he might consider whether there are any such examples in the world that is more likely to listen to his tochacha and identify them?

    Aryeh – are those no longer in yeshivot subject to your analysis? What constitutes learning in a Yeshiva that allows one to be eligible for a blanket exemption under the halachot of a defensive war? Is learning in a Yeshiva an automatic exemption under halacha?

    As I posted on an earlier R’ Rosenbloom post, his modern rhetoric does not lend itself to the self-analysis we all must do or to the dialog we should try to maintain with our disaffected brothers and sisters, especially in Elul.

    Ani Ldodi vdodi li,

  5. L.Oberstein says:

    My esteemed friend Jonathan , what are we going to say now that President katzav is in the news every day and it is not for petty corruption, but possible rape. He is the fellow you praised because he woulldn’t call a reform rabbi a “rav”.There are so many allegations of sexual malfeasance being circulated, many without any corroboration . i am concerned that frum Jews will be held in disdain and it won’t help us to feel superior if we are indeed having morality problems.
    i know the secular elites have always hated katzav but is there anything we can say except, don’t jump to conclusions.

  6. Shimon says:

    Who said its Mutar to go to the army?

    OK, some say so, but for the most part the chareidi Rabbonim says its assur to go. *Thats* the blanket exemption: that it is not a proper environment for a Ben Torah

  7. Joel Rich says:

    Is there any indication in Nach (Prophets) that in the time of Malchei Yisrael (Kings of Israel some of whom IIRC were not what we would consider “frum-friendly”) that there was a blanket exemption for “Bnai Torah” from the army?

    I seem to recall that “Bnai Torah” Jews served in European armies during the last century or two(including some future gedolim), were these armies the proper environment for bnei Torah?

    I don’t ask these questions to be argumentative, I sincerely would like to have a better understanding of the halachik/philosophical underpinning of the position described.


  8. Shimon says:

    Mr Rich – were those future gedolim in the army “l’sheim army” or were they there out of lack of other choice. Some people were in Siberia, but I dont think I heard of anyone thinking it was the best place to go. Do you really want to equate the Israeli army and the Russian and/or German armies of the 1800-1900’s?

  9. Ahron says:

    In light of Mr. Rosenblum’s article above, I can only respond with an observation I made last week: Israeli politicians are certainly not our leaders–they are merely our rulers. The adoption of this mindset would be a very positive development that would allow us to begin conceptualizing exactly what we feel a Jewish leader–a true Jewish leader–should embody.

    I also ran across an engaging article with similar sentiments . An excerpt:

    We as a nation have shown ourselves to be strong, brave, unselfish, caring of one another, and unified in national purpose. How, I ask myself, did such good people end up with such leaders? (And I use the words “leaders” advisedly — they are no more than purported leaders.) Figuring this out and fixing it is part of what needs to be done.

  10. Joel Rich says:

    Dear Shimon,
    My point was not to compare Tzahal to those other armies for a number of reasons that would take this discussion in another direction. I was simply pointing out that there could not be a ” blanket exemption: that it is not a proper environment for a Ben Torah”. As IIRC the Lubavitcher Rebee said to R’ J Sacks when the latter was a young man on campus, “one does not find oneself in circumstances, one puts oneself in circumstances”.

    The question would then be what are the alternatives and their impact (on the individual and his society) qua the European army and Tzahal. Perhaps one day we’ll discuss those off-line.

  11. David N. Friedman says:

    Regarding Ahron’s rhetorical question–“where did these leaders come from??”— the answer is obvious. The Israeili electorate just decided to vote them in power and keep them in power in an election that was fair and honest and must represent the will of the Israeli electorate.

    I must say that I would prefer Netanyahu and since corruption and scandal is such a proper, a leader from one of the religious parties but I am no Israeli. The same Netanyahu that is now the runaway favorite to win election in Olmert’s no confidence vote was very recently trounced at the polls. Now, he has a chance to be swept back into power on the emotion of the war against Hizbulloh. So much for the parliamentary system that gives duly elected leaders short notice when things turn sour.

    Again, I must shake my head over all the handwringing against the elected leaders of Israel. That whole crowd was well-known and the people said yes to them.

    I simply wish to point out that at some point it must be conceded that the people do not mind corruption or bad and dangerous policy regarding the Arabs as much as we might imagine.

    After all, America voted Clinton in office for two terms.

  12. Joe Fisher says:

    Rabbi Rosenbloom doesn’t connect the dots in this article.

    He sets out show us the connection “…between the corruption and venality of the current government and its disastrous conduct of the war in Lebanon…”

    Then he details the venality of some in the current government in explicit terms, including judging guilty parties who have yet to have their day in court. Nu nu, you’re not supposed to do this.

    But he still has to demonstrate how this “venality,” which means “susceptibility to being bribed,” is connected to their “disastrous conduct of the war in Lebanon.” Here Rosenbloom is at a loss for words. There is nothing “venal” in his explanation of their conduct of the war in Lebanon. Rosenbloom does apply them some negative epithets, labeling them the “gang that could not shoot straight,” or, “lackadaisical.”

    But these are not at all “venal” traits.

    Finally he quotes a Chazon Ish addressing whether or not someone is an “adam gadol” if they have a negia. Now, no-one, not even the PM’s office, is claiming that title for Ulmert. But anyway he persists in forcing the Chazon Ish’s words to apply where he wants them:

    “…The lifetime habit of viewing each situation through the lens of “What’s in it for me?” corrupted our leaders’ thought processes and left them unable to focus exclusively on national objectives.”

    But he never shows us how there was any venal “what’s in it for me” that these leaders followed to our detriment in their conduct of the war. Apparently he thinks that once a person has negios, his entire thought processes become corrupt, and he makes mistakes even without having any negios.

    But the Chazon Ish specifically avoided saying this. That’s the whole point, that the Chazon Ish was not overdoing his judgment of his fellow. As Rosenbloom himself says, the Chazon Ish only says this person’s negios will find their way into all his deeds: “even his acts of chesed will be tinged with self-interest.” The Chazon Ish never says that because of his negios the person will make any stam mistakes. The Chazon Ish only says that you can be sure he’ll have other negios.

    Where was the self-interest in their alleged errors conducting the war? Nowhere to be seen in Rosenbloom’s article.

  13. Eliyahu says:

    Joe, the self-interest is obvious. Invading lebanon with ground troops and staying there for a long time (which was the only policy capable of stopping the rockets on the North) would be an admission of failure of the unilateral withdrawal strategy that Olmert championed. It was in his political interest to try everthing else, air war, limited ground incursions, dipolomacy, etc. just to try to prove that unilateral withdrawal enhance Israel’s security.
    The political goals of Olmert’s government were the primary, the fact that the rockets were falling on people’s head was secondary.

  14. Joe Fisher says:

    Eliyahu, who says we had the option of invading with ground troops and staying there for a long time?

    Every single time we sent in ground troops they took serious losses. We tried staying in Bint Jabel (sic) and kept getting blown up. Our final incursion, just before the ceasefire, was also rife with loss of life.

    Yours is just the loser’s boast of “Yeah, I coulda done it!”

    This claim, Rosenblum implies it also, that with more guts we could have wiped the enemy off the map was proven wrong time and again on the battlefield. It is absolutely not certain that a full-fledged ground attack would have stopped the rockets.

    Hezbollah was well armed with anti-tank rockets that were extremely effective. A significant number of our losses were in the tanks, and the Hezbollah were so well dug into the ground that air bombing was ineffective against them.

    And furthermore your claim that Olmert’s self-interest was the challenge to his unilateral withdrawal strategy is also very weak. Olmert had much more at stake in the Lebanon war that he was actually fighting than he had in any theoretical withdrawal plan from the territories. Davka an opportunist would have chosen the bird in the hand, an easy victory over Hezbollah, over the little bird in the bush of withdrawal.

  15. Eliyahu says:

    Most Israelis would not agree to withdraw from West Bank if they had a fresh reminder that Israel has to return to territories it unilateraly retreats from. Given Olmert’s limited stature, his convergence plan was his main ticket/claim to leadership.
    You are right that neglect of S. Lebanon after the original disengagement would make the fighting hard. This is why Olmert chose to try to get
    an easy victory with the air war and then limited ground fighting.
    Basically you don’t think a massive ground invasion would have worked and so you disagree with R. Rosenblum’s analysis.
    If you want to believe that 50,000-100,000 Israeli troops could not get to the litani river in a week or so when opposed by 4,000 Hizbullah men, be my guest. But in that case israel is is in serious trouble and just for that Olmert should make way for someone else. Your examples of casualties in Bint Jabel are not convincing, precisely because IDF did not use massive forces.
    Trying to take a village with a few hundred men is a whole lot
    harder than with a few thousand. And when ordered in the last few days to advance, IDF did
    make it much further into Lebanon than in all of previous 3+ weeks.

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