Khaled abu Toameh, perhaps the single best Arab journalist working today, has a fascinating piece on the Arab reaction to Olmert’s difficulties as a result of a corruption scandal which, they admit, would not even register in their societies. Despite their “hatred” of the “Zionist entity” they find themselves filled with admiration for a system that really works. It’s a remarkable piece of evidence that, even in cultures replete with honor-shame dynamics, there’s a secret admiration for the workings of the “rule of law.” (Hat tip: Noah Pollack)
May 30, 2008 0:04 | Updated May 30, 2008 8:58
‘No one is above the law in Israel’
By KHALED ABU TOAMEH
The corruption case against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has earned Israel tremendous respect throughout the Arab world, where many have called on their leaders to benefit from Israel’s democratic system and independent judicial system.
‘It’s ridiculous for politicians to receive cash from US donors’
Words of praise for Israel are a rare phenomenon in the Arab media. But judging from the reactions of many Arabs to the corruption case in the past week, the trend appears to have changed.
Even some Arabs who describe themselves as “sworn enemies of the Zionist entity” have begun singing praise for Israel.
Over the past week, the corruption case against Olmert received wide coverage in the mainstream Arab media, prompting an outcry about the need for transparency and accountability in the Arab world.
“Show me one Arab or Islamic country where a prime minister or a senior government official was ever questioned for financial corruption or bribery,” said a reader who identified himself only as Majed.
Majed, like many others, was responding to a news story on an Arab Web site about the testimony in court of American philanthropist Morris Talansky, who told police he had given Olmert more than $150,000 in cash over the course of some 14 years.
Another reader, Sami, commented: “The Israeli regime with all its defects is better than all the Arab ‘democracies’ and still changes ministers and governments every few years.”
A Saudi national named Abdel Karim urged his Arab brethren to stop criticizing Israel and learn something about its democracy. “Before we curse Israel, we must learn from the democratic and judicial system in Israel, where no one is above the law,” he wrote.
Khaled, another Saudi national, chimed in: “Although we are talking about Israel, which I have always hated very much, there is still no one above the law there.”
Mahmoud al-Bakili of Yemen posted the following response on one of the Web sites: “We want this kind of accountability and transparency in the Arab and Islamic world.”
And there was this comment from an Arab who described himself as a Syrian Voice: “Despite my strong hatred for the Zionist regime, I have a lot of admiration and respect for this entity because there is no one above the law. In the Arab world, laws are broken every day and no one seems to care.”
Egyptian writer Abdel Aziz Mahmoud said he doesn’t believe the day will ever come when an Arab leader will be put on trial for sexual harassment or financial corruption.
“I don’t think we will live to see the day when the police interrogate an Arab leader for sexually harassing his secretary or receiving bribes,” he wrote. “Nor will our children and grandchildren live to see that day. What happened in Israel can never happen in any Arab country.”
Some Arabs went as far as condemning the Arab people for failing to rise against their corrupt dictators.
“There is corruption in Israel and the Arab world,” wrote Abu Hadi from Iraq. “But the difference is that the Israelis hold their leaders accountable, while we the Arabs remain silent about corruption.”
Jamal, who described himself as the Madman, wrote that “the reason why Israel has lasted for so long is because of its independent and fair judicial system. I challenge the Arabs to have such an independent judicial system.”
Many of the readers found it quite ironic that Olmert was being questioned because of “only” tens of thousands of dollars he allegedly received from Talansky.
“They say he received something like $3,000 a year,” said Abu Atab from Morocco inaccurately. “This shows that Olmert is a decent man. This is a small sum that any Arab government official would receive on a daily basis as a bribe. Our leaders steal millions of dollars and no one dares to hold them accountable.”
Touching on the same issue, a reader from Algeria posted this comment: “In the Arab world, our leaders don’t accept less than $1 million in bribes; the money must be deposited in secret bank accounts in Switzerland. Olmert is a fool if he took only a small sum.”
Another comment, this time from Ahmed in Jordan, also referred to the alleged amount: “Only a few thousand dollars? What a fool! This is what an Egyptian minister gets in a day or what a Saudi CEO gets in 45 minutes, or a Kuwaiti government official in five minutes. This is what the physician of the emir of Qatar gets every 30 seconds.”
One Arab commentator who identified himself as Jasser Abdel Hamid advised Olmert to seek citizenship of one of the Arab countries. “Why don’t you seek Arab citizenship?” he asked sarcastically. “There you can take as much money as you want. Even if they discover the theft, they will erect a statue for you in a public square.”
The following are more comments that appeared in recent days in the Arab media:
Mohammed in Lebanon: “Can you imagine if there was an investigation against an Arab or Muslim leader? Do you know how much money they would discover?”
Abu Yusef in Egypt: “Unfortunately, this is the real democracy. Our enemies are very good in practicing democracy. In the Arab world, our leaders steal everything and no one ever dares to ask a question.”
Rashid in Saudi Arabia: “Despite all our problems with the Jews, they are much better than us in fighting corruption and revealing the truth.”
Israel Lover in Saudi Arabia: “Israel is a state that deserves to exist. It deserves our profound respect. I wish I were a citizen of this state.”
Hani in Ramallah: “This is democracy at its best! Enough of dictatorship in the Arab world! Let’s learn from the Israeli example. Let’s benefit from Israel’s democracy.”
Rashid Bohairi in Kuwait: “I swear Israel is a state that will succeed. They are prosecuting their prime minister because of tens of thousands of dollars. What about the millions of dollars that Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority stole? How come the Palestinian people are still hungry?”