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Israeli Politics: A Wave of Corruption

16 December 2002

By Yisrael Ne’eman

Primaries and elections are supposed to signal a celebration of democracy.  Outwardly the Labor and especially Likud primaries were festive, the latter resembling a carnival.  But behind the scenes too many shady deals were made and corruption became the main event.  Bribes were offered and taken, or turned down, candidates got onto the Likud Knesset list not based on credentials but rather on who they knew, paid or were willing to peddle for in power politics. 

During the past week the Israeli political apparatus is over its head in complaints to the police, ongoing investigations from previous years and the lost message of ‘whatever the issues were’ concerning the 2003 elections.  Former prime minister Ehud Barak is still being investigated for an illegal fund raising scam in 1999 and present PM Ariel Sharon is likewise in trouble over his primaries campaign in 2001 on similar suspicions.  At present some 15% of the Knesset is facing police inquiries.  With the new lists of both parties several more Knesset candidates will begin their careers answering questions from law enforcement authorities.

The Likud has proven itself especially incompetent as many chosen for the faction list have very little in the way of a platform on economics, foreign policy or defense.  But apparently they promised jobs or bought off the correct number of votes in the party central committee.

Senior Likud politicians are trying to bring back the issues, especially Labor’s overly dovish foreign policy and defense policies.  Labor is in a bind since they may be tainted this time around by less scandals than their rivals but should the issue of Israeli – Palestinian peace making be raised (and it will) the Yossi Ginossar financial and security mess will surface, burying any and all Likud corruption together.  Suspicions are that Barak and certain still active Labor Knesset members (especially former defense minister Benyamin Ben Eliezer) used Ginossar as a liaison to the Palestinians even though they were warned of his clear conflict of interests by Elyakim Rubenstein, the government legal advisor.  Ginossar constantly urged Barak and others to compromise more and ‘make peace’. 

Corruption in the Palestinian Authority is well known and apparently Labor politicians thought they could use a less than honest former Israeli security official who made millions off the PA as a go between to attain peace with Arafat and Co.  It appears they felt there was ‘honesty among thieves’ but as we know it all backfired.

One can expect the Likud and Labor to start backing down from mutual recriminations over corruption and try to return to ‘politics as usual.’  Neither the left wing Meretz faction nor the centrist Shinui will let it slide and both have highlighted anti-corruption campaigns.  Never has so much corruption hit the Israeli political system in such a short amount of time.

Apparently corruption has become just ‘politics as usual’.