A few weeks back, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman speculated on the “not-so-obvious forces” that led Tunisians, Egyptians, and citizens of other Arab nations to rise up against their despotic rulers.
Among those forces was one overlooked in much of the rest of the media: Israel’s democratic example. While Israel’s critics continue to smear it as an “apartheid state” and worse, Friedman focused on some high-profile cases of corruption in Israel and the ways in which its system worked to hold the perpetrators accountable. His examples included the forced resignation of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on suspicions of graft, and the investigation of Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant for an illicit land deal that derailed his appointment as the army’s new chief of staff.
Friedman also mentioned the case of former Israeli President Moshe Katsav, who was found guilty of rape and sexual assault. This week, Katsav was sentenced to seven years in jail and ordered to pay compensation to two of his victims.
In sentencing Katsav, who intends to appeal, the judges wrote, “The defendant committed the crime and like every other person, he must bear the consequences. No man is above the law. The contention that seeing a former president of the country go to jail is too painful to watch is an emotional argument, but it definitely cannot be accepted as an ethical argument.”
The Katsav case was painful and embarrassing. And yet it serves as a reminder of the ways in which Israel continues to live up to its democratic ideals and provides an example for the societies that may emerge out of the current upheaval. As Friedman put it, “When you live right next to a country that is bringing to justice its top leaders for corruption, and you live in a country where many of the top leaders are corrupt, well, you notice.”