Monday, January 27, 2020 -
Print Edition

Holyland

The following joke is sadly funny: “Today is 2,190 days, which is 314 weeks, which is 6 years of Olmert” — a parody on the counting of the Omer between Passover and the holiday of Shavuot, substituting the mathematical formula for  the jail sentence of former Jerusalem Mayor and Israel PM Ehud Olmert.

All kidding aside, how sad a day, or era, is this for Israel?

I keep hearing the conviction and sentencing of Olmert praised.

What a victory for Israel’s legal system!

How strong justice is in Israel!

Finally, a blow to government corruption!

An affirmation of the transparent, fair and responsible democracy that Israel is.

A message to power in Israel: Corruption will not be tolerated. And not only that. The sentence, the judge emphasized, is harsher precisely to highlight a failure in leadership by a public servant. In other words: No one is above the law.

Indeed, this ruling is a nod to Israel’s tightening of a system that has, at times, allowed things here and there to slip by. Checks and balances, ensuring squeaky clean financial decisions, were not always there.

“Proteksia,” they call it.

Everyone kind of knew that if you knew someone who knew someone on the municipal or state level, they could “somehow” help get you (for example) that extra or convoluted permit to, say, expand your apartment, against the laws in place.

I remember traveling on Begin Rd., which passes below the real estate development that is the subject of the current Olmert scandal (other corruption suits brought against him were eventually dropped). I was in a taxi. I was flabbergasted by the architectural monstrosity, especially its out-of-context, excessively high profile on a hill of a low housing in a suburban neighborhood — a rising silhouette of five luxury skyscrapers connected by little bridges at the top — scarring the Jerusalem skyline.

It was simply offensive and wrong. This blight felt personal. After all, this is our Jerusalem we are talking about. Jerusalem!

This is a city of history. With so little space and all the buildings practically crammed together, there are restrictions on height and requirements for the stone facings of all buildings, reflecting Jerusalem’s unique quality.

I said to the taxi driver:

“How can this happen? Who would give permission for such a monstrosity to be built here?”

Hamifletzet?” (The Monster?), he responded. “Proteksia. Proteksia, motek. Hakol proteksia — Proteksia, darling. It’s all proteksia,” he said as he swished his fingers together, implying money.

Along with most residents of Jerusalem, I was upset. But it was a lost cause. The buildings were up. Today, they are indeed known as “The Mifletzet” and can’t simply be erased. Unfortunately, they stand as a permanent commemoration of this government corruption.

So, yes, all the laudatory comments about this sad day in Israel being a victory for Israel’s justice system are true. It’s good to know that when it comes to government corruption, justice will prevail.

But I remember this being the same response when Israel’s President Katsav was indicted and sentenced to jail. And between then and now allegations agonist Chief Rabbi Metzger have been filed.

Yes, yes. I get it. The legal system is working. It’s working fine.

Fantastic!

But we don’t need any more evidence!

The sad fact is, these indictments and convictions are a commentary on Israeli society and values. More than the architectural eyesore, the corrupt leadership it represents is the true blight, not just on Jerusalem, but on all of Israel.

It is time for real change. Fighting corruption legally is only the first step. The heart of the matter is about developing an Israeli culture that cultivates leaders who reflect the essence of what Israel should be.

Because you want to know what the irony of this whole story is? You want to know what the name of the scandalous, despised luxury towers?

It’s called “Holyland.”

Copyright © 2014 by the Intermountain Jewish News



Tehilla R. Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park


Leave a Reply