Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

16 Iyar 5761 - May 9, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Equal Under the Law

In 1979 the Israeli Knesset passed a law that said that any public servant who receives a gift in the line of his duty must turn it over to the State. The law and its regulations are very clear, and very encompassing: it is the same whether the worker himself receives the gift, or his or her spouse, or a child who lives with them. The gift is State property and must be turned over.

The subject of gift giving to public servants was one that the State Comptroller studied and included in his most recent report, released last week. The Comptroller found that in almost 20 years, from the time the law was implemented until September 1999, a grand total of 310 gifts were reported as having been received by all the prime ministers, ministers, their assistants and so on. In the subsequent nine months, however, some 2,500 gifts were reported, mostly by former ministers of defense and directors of the Ministry of Defense.

It may seem odd to the casual reader that the particular date of September 1999 was chosen as a watershed. However, the reason is that in that month, former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu was very publicly investigated for what he did with the many gifts that he received in his three years as prime minister. The press was notified when Netanyahu was called in for questioning, and photographed him coming and going. Netanyahu and his wife were called in for questioning for several eight-hour days. Long hours were spent on questions about a cheap pin that Mrs. Netanyahu received from a voluntary organization.

In the end, Netanyahu was not charged with any crime in this connection. In fact, Netanyahu had prepared 121 crates with over 1,000 gifts that he received which he turned over to the General Caretaker, as provided by law. Yet he was punished with loss of time and invasion of privacy, and that was over a law that had never been observed in the 20 years since it was passed.

There was plenty of justified criticism of Netanyahu. For example, a visit he made to New York City in September 1998 cost the Israeli taxpayer almost $400,000. The entire subject of foreign travel was found to be rife with abuses by many different offices and agencies. The administration of the Israeli Courts, for example, sent a delegation of seven to Italy for sports competition in the summer of 1999!

Yet there seems to have been something special against Netanyahu. In addition to the fact that he was investigated for breaking a law that no one had previously observed, his investigation received a tremendous amount of publicity, apparently arranged by someone in the police investigative unit, since no one else would have known exactly when Netanyahu was actually being questioned at the police offices.

In a contrast that was noted by Netanyahu himself last week, Netanyahu's successor as prime minister, Ehud Barak, is also being investigated for something that the Comptroller characterized as a serious threat to the rule of law. Yet his trips to the investigators are virtually ignored by the press.

The contrast should worry anyone concerned about the integrity of judicial processes in Israel.

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