The complex looms over Jerusalem like a row of rotten teeth. So out of kilter is the Holyland apartment project with the rest of the city that to stand on the balconies of its illegally constructed molars is to risk vertigo — you gaze down to the city swirling far, far below not merely from a high rise, but from a high rise high on a hill.
There are some who might argue, now that the bribery central to its construction has been exposed and the miscreants ordered to jail, that the Holyland homes should be torn down. Root canal treatment for this aberration. The fines imposed Tuesday by Judge David Rozen could go some way toward financing the demolition.
But quite apart from such an act constituting unwarranted punishment for the blameless residents, it would seem that Israel’s holders of high office could benefit from the continued presence of so dominant a reminder of the perils of corruption. And Israeli voters, too. For the scandal underlines how deeply corruption penetrated Israel’s leadership, and how strikingly indifferent much of the public has been to the rot.
Obviously, among the gang of Holyland crooks, overwhelming attention has focused on Ehud Olmert. He is destined for the history books not, as he would once have hoped, as the courageous, far-sighted leader who cajoled the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world into ending their conflict with the State of Israel, but rather as the first prime minister of Israel to spend time behind bars.
Also sentenced to prison terms on Tuesday, however, was Danny Dankner, who for two years was chairman of Israel’s biggest bank, Bank Hapoalim, and who was removed from that most prestigious of posts only after relentless warnings and interventions by the former governor of the Bank of Israel Stanley Fischer.
Dankner pleaded guilty to a variety of corruption charges in a separate case last year, and was sentenced to a year in jail in December; on Tuesday, after Rozen had added three more years to his prison time for his role in the Holyland affair, an unchastened Dankner was still protesting the unfairness of the verdict.
Jailed, too, on Tuesday, for three and a half years, was Eli Simhayoff, a former deputy mayor of Jerusalem who refused to step down when indicted two years ago and had to be suspended by the mayor. Dismally, when the Shas leader Aryeh Deri was compiling his roster of party candidates for the Jerusalem City Council ahead of last October’s municipal elections, he placed Simhayoff back on the list, even as the Holyland trial was entering its final phases. Although he was convicted six weeks ago, Simhayoff formally remained a Jerusalem council member, his details up for all to see on the city website. He only suspended himself on Tuesday, the day of the sentencing.
You might have thought Deri, of all people, would have known better. He, after all, features on the grim, lengthening list of Israeli public officials convicted of crimes and sentenced to prison terms, having served two years in jail when found guilty in 2000 for taking bribes as minister of the interior.
But then again, why would Deri learn a lesson? The charismatic, populist Deri’s stellar political career — he was once seen as a possible first ultra-Orthodox prime minister — was hamstrung but not destroyed by his criminal activities. He bounced back to lead Shas into the last general elections, was rewarded with 11 seats by voters evidently unfazed by his corrupt past, and will likely remain a central figure in national politics for years to come.
Which brings us back to Olmert and the voting public. Having been acquitted in the major RishonTours and Talansky affairs in 2012, and convicted “only” for a breach of trust violation that did not carry jail time, the former prime minister seriously contemplated a comeback in last year’s general elections, and even the more pessimistic polls suggested a party led by Olmert would win several seats. He had breached the public trust, and yet at least part of the public was ready to trust him again.
The stained teeth chomping over Jerusalem up on Holyland Hill should serve as a warning to corrupt politicians and officials. They also might usefully remind voters not to continue to place their interests in the hands of those who have betrayed them.
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