Ehud Olmert and the decline of Israel

Israel continues to face many serious threats and potential threats: a nuclear Iran, an emboldened Hezbollah, and the dislike or hatred of various European states and some on the American left. But one senses that a greater threat is posed by what looks like rampant corruption within Israel itself.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert symbolizes the problem. Golda Meir resigned after the Yom Kippur war, which Israel won. Olmert did not resign after the botched war in Lebanon. This contrast alone suggests decline.

But now Olmert faces credible charges of corruption. An American businessman, Morris Talansky, says he gave Olmert more than $150,000 over a 15 year period, much of it cash stuffed into envelopes. Talansky says that, though the money was intended to help fund Olmert’s political campaigns, in fact it helped support Olmert’s lavish lifestyle — a fancy Italian vacation, fine cigars, and a stay at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington, D.C.

Olmert is also being investigated over evidence that he may have bilked various charities of more than $100,000 by billing multiple organizations for the same flights and hotel stays. These organizations are said to include the Holocaust memorial authority, a group that supports Israeli soldiers, and a group that helps mentally retarded children.

Olmert claims that it’s all a set-up by corrupt state law enforcement authorities. If true, that would exonerate Olmert, but it would hardly reduce the sense that corruption is rampant in Israel. Nor does that sense rest on the Olmert affair, whatever the truth of it. One reads frequently of venality in high places in Israel.

Israelis live under great pressure, and it is not surprising that they have become quite materialistic. Americans are at least as bad, with less excuse. And while an Israel as materialistic as today’s might not have prevailed in 1948, there’s no reason to assume that it cannot survive today, given the technological and related advantages it possesses. But a corrupt Israel — one in which its soldiers are asked to sacrifice so much while its leaders line their pockets — is another matter.

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