Mysterious are the ways of politics: while MK Naomi Blumenthal finds herself on moral trial in public for exercising her right to remain silent, her Likud colleague Environment Minister Tzachi Hanegbi struts arrogantly on center stage, enjoying full legitimacy because he chose to speak openly. In doing so, he exposed himself to charges concerning behavior far more reprehensible than the allegations faced by the now dismissed deputy minister.
Blumenthal is suspected of having purchased her place on the Likud's Knesset list with money, or its equivalent. The illegal financing attributed to her came out of her own pocket. The picture which seems to be taking shape is that of a well-to-do public figure who spent some her own cash to guarantee her position, or improve it. If this is the case, her behavior was unworthy, and the law proscribes it; if she did hand out bribes, Blumenthal's public career will be finished. Of course, her decision to keep mum during questioning is difficult for the public to accept.
But Blumenthal's case is small fry compared to other scandals arising out of the miasma of the Likud Central Committee. Blumenthal's name has not been linked to the criminal underworld, which gives her an advantage compared to a few other candidates who snared secure spots on Likud's election list. There is no suspicion that Blumenthal aspired to sit with Israel's 119 other legislators so that she could represent shady interests; and this cannot be said about a few of the others on the Likud list.
For the first time in the history of the state, there is evidence suggesting that some Trojan horses are running for the Knesset so they can slip into the corridors of power and promote dubious, if not criminal, interests. The Likud presents the voter with a loathsome Knesset list that has won the backing of the prime minister; immediately after the party's central committee voting, Ariel Sharon released a statement supporting the list, and then invited its top 60 candidates to his official residence.
Apart from all of this, Hanegbi has publicly boasted that he conferred jobs in his Environment Ministry to 80 Likud functionaries. That was his trump card in his bid to wrest a viable position in the central committee vote. As reported on Friday by Ha'aretz correspondent Amnon Barzilai, Hanegbi has even declared that he will find jobs for 159 more Likud members during his term of service in the next government.
Responding to Hanegbi's admission about his role in the spoils system, the Movement for Quality Government in Israel lodged a complaint with the head of the Central Election Committee, Justice Mishael Cheshin (the complaint was withdrawn after Hanegbi promised not to make such boasts in the future). Hanegbi, it will be recalled, reaped great profit from his labors, capturing the top slot in the Likud elections.
With such behavior, Hanegbi exposes himself to the charge that he uses public funds to promote his own personal interests. He appears to have purchased his position by exploiting his ability to reward supporters by handing out jobs. Since the recipients of such spoils are paid out of the state budget, the taxpayer ends up footing the bill for such patronage. Morally, Hanegbi's position is worse than Blumenthal's: she is accused of buying support with her own money.
Hanegbi is simply an example: on the whole, Likud is infected by moral torpor and corruption. When a perplexed Limor Livnat asked members of the party's central committee whether Likud took power so it could hand out spoils to its members, she was met with resounding cries of "yes, it did." Likud ministers and Knesset members bragged about their achievements handing out jobs and favors in order to win sympathy among central committee members. They neglected to mention that such patronage is funded by public money.
In the past, games of give-and-take between elected politicians and their constituents were played in other parties. This wrongful system has become institutionalized in the Likud party, and it now endangers Israel's democratic system.
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