On February 15, 2016, former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert began serving a 19-month prison sentence, following his conviction in a bribery scandal that took place when he was mayor of Jerusalem. In light of his imprisonment, the Arab press featured articles praising Israeli democracy and condemning the corrupt, tyrannical Arab regimes that, they said, embezzle their own countries' funds and oppress their own citizens without ever being brought to account.
In the London daily Al-Hayat, Palestinian-Syrian writer Majed Kayali listed several high-ranking Israeli officials who had gone to prison, been removed, or been investigated in connection with various offenses, and called on Arabs to stop denying that Israel was a genuine democratic state. This democracy, he said, strengthens it and ensures its continued supremacy over the Arabs whose regimes are corrupt and tyrannical. However, he also stated that this does not contradict the fact that Israel is an illegitimate, imperialist state and that its democracy is meant only for the Jews.
Hassan Ahmad Al-Shubaki, director of Al-Jazeera in Jordan, wrote in the Jordanian daily Al-Ghad that the news of Olmert's imprisonment puts the Arabs to shame, in light of the corruption that is rife their own regimes and among their own elites, and in light of the ostensible discussion in the Arab countries about integrity. He too implied that they should follow Israel's lead.
Following are excerpts from both articles:
Ehud Olmert (image: bbc.com)
Majed Kayali: We Must Recognize Israel's Democratic Advantage
Majed Kayali wrote: "The Israeli court has sentenced former Israeli prime minister (2006-2009) and former head of the Kadima Party, Ehud Olmert, to 18 months [sic] in prison, after he was convicted of accepting an NIS 60,000 ($14,000) bribe as part of a real estate deal that took place during his term as mayor of Jerusalem (1993-2003). Olmert stood before [the camera] and simply said 'I accept this verdict with a heavy heart; no one is above the law.'
"Before Olmert, Israeli courts sentenced former Israeli president Moshe Katsav (2000-2007) to seven years in prison for rape and sexual harassment, and handed down prison sentences to a number of ministers, party leaders, and MKs, or made them step down from their public positions because of financial corruption or sexual harassment. These include: Yizhak Mordechai, Aryeh Deri, Haim Ramon, and Silvan Shalom. Even Ehud Barak was investigated for financial irregularities, as were Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, who were investigated on suspicion of inflating expenses at the prime minister's residence and of accepting gifts while in office.
"The problem is that some of us [Arabs] think that this is strange, instead of thinking deeply about this country [Israel] and comparing its system of governance to that in our countries. Also, some people's opposition to Israel leads them to deny any advantages it has... as though the enemy is not really an enemy unless it is base in every conceivable way. [The fact is] that Israel, whether we like it or not... conducts itself as a state in every sense of the word - meaning that it is not the private property of any person, family, party, or sect, even if we do consider it illegitimate and thieving.
"The most important thing is that this country is run in modern democratic ways, as a state of institutions, laws, and a constitution, in accordance with the liberal democratic method that is based on separation of powers and transition of government, and in which the citizens are free and equal. This, in fact, is what sets it apart from our regimes, and ensures its continued development, stability, and supremacy. What this means is that this [Israeli supremacy] relies on more than just its military might and its alliance with the West. This, despite all the criticism that we have regarding the meaning of freedom and equality in an imperialist nation that champions settlements, mixes religion and nationalism, and draws many of its laws and ideologies from Jewish ritual...
"It is precisely this aspect - that it is a state of institutions, laws, and citizen [rights] - that our nations lack and that the tyrannical regimes have made sure that we are denied, on the pretext of confronting Israel on the reality of the absence of a [Palestinian] state... In Israel, which has separation of powers, a president, a prime minister, ministers, MKs, and officers are prosecuted for sex or corruption scandals - even scandals involving just a few thousand dollars - while we have not even the most basic rights and liberties, and accept regimes that export [our] resources, squander our income, kill [their own citizens] en masse, and even bring in foreign armies and militias to kill, expel, and besiege their own peoples.
"Some might not like these words, because they are not in line with their own opinions or with the image they want for Israel - that is, an image based on denial, on instilling ignorance vis-├á-vis Israel's sources of strength, and on attributing its strength to foreign [elements], with the aim of covering up the helplessness of our own regimes... We must get to know Israel and its domestic sources of strength if we are to deal with our situation and our various struggles with it. Ignorance about Israel, and denying the source of its superiority in economy, science, technology, administration, freedoms, higher education, and outlay on research, will only add to our frustration and backwardness, and inflict repeated defeats on us...
"Nevertheless, it might be worth mentioning here, for the thousandth time, that our seeing Israel as a democratic state [does not mean that we fail to realize that] it is only democratic for its Jewish citizens, not for the Palestinians - whether citizens (in the 1948 territories) or in the occupied territories and Gaza Strip. Furthermore, arguing that it is democratic for Jews alone does not exonerate it, because it is actually an imperialist, racist, religious, and illegitimate nation that controls the Palestinians by force of arms...
"Another thing that must be realized in this context, in light of the current situation of our Arab world, is that Israel uses the might of its society and its democracy to block foreign intervention and foreign dictates, including those concerning the [Israeli-Palestinian] arrangement. On the other hand, our regimes do all they can to weaken our societies, revoke their freedoms, and show weakness, fragility, and obedience to foreign dictates, without [even] receiving anything in return. This difference is vital, and highly significant."
Hassan Ahmad Al-Shubaki: Nothing Like The Olmert Affair Ever Happened Here
Hassan Ahmad Al-Shubaki wrote in Al-Ghad: "The news of last week's unprecedented imprisonment of a former Israeli prime minister passed without [any] Arab commentary, because the Arabs are unaccustomed to such news. In their view, a senior figure is immune to any demands for accountability. Olmert did not escape [trial] for his errors, but was sent to Ramla Prison for 19 months after he was tried for accepting a bribe when he was mayor of Jerusalem and for suborning a witness.
"This news and its circumstances puts us [Arabs] to shame, in light of our ongoing lies about the integrity [in our ranks] - because there are six Arab countries on the list of the world's most corrupt nations, and in them accountability is never demanded [from anyone]... [Our] countries become farms; their residents are a cheap labor force, and the crops all go to the farm's owners. This is ugly and criminal, but it is common in most Arab countries...
"The discourse about integrity in the Arab newspapers, TV screens, courthouses, and parliaments, only throws dust in our eyes, since despite the crimes committed daily against our people, we have never had a case like Olmert's. The deception of every so often sending a handful of officials to prison, in several Arab countries, is mostly connected with the settling of a score in a dispute over the [ownership of the] 'farm,' and has nothing to do with rule of law, integrity, or any such thing - which are foreign to the Arabs.
"The only thing that is truly deeply ingrained in most Arab countries is corruption. Events and crises are deviously manufactured in order to allow corruption to continue, and the countries' resources are sold to the highest bidder in the service of this corruption...
"The most important lesson to be learned from the Olmert affair, and the one that shames all of us and the corrupt Arab elite, is what he said after the verdict was handed down: No one is above the law!"