Analysis

Israel's Lucrative Industry of Corruption

Bribery, fraud, breach of trust: Indictments against top Israeli politicians point to a culture where the government is up for sale

Faina Kirschenbaum at a party conference, December 30, 2014.
David Bachar

The defense minister's office is just six minutes' walk from the Tel Aviv District Court, which will be convenient for Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman after the Jewish holidays next month. Between meetings with top army brass to approve missions and whatnot, the minister will be able to easily drop by the court, and offer support to colleagues in his party Yisrael Beiteinu as they undergo trial in the latest rounds in the culture of corruption at the highest levels.

For instance, he could run into former Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirshenbaum, who on Tuesday was indicted at that very same court in a case involving 10 defendants associated with Yisrael Beiteinu. Kirshenbaum, a highly influential party figure, was charged with bribery, fraud, money laundering and tax offenses. According to the police, she cynically and coldly abused her position to enrich herself, and the party.

As for other party members, allegations include demanding kickbacks in exchange for government funding. Other defendants include the director of the Yisrael Beiteinu party headquarters, David Godovsky, and former Agriculture Ministry director general Rami Cohen. Charges are expected to be filed against former Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov on a later date, with charges of bribery and fraud, possession of a dangerous drug and obstruction of justice.

The Yisrael Beiteinu corruption investigation is one of the biggest in Israeli history. This, alongside cases such as the investigation into the Israel Roads (Maatz) infrastructure company, the Holyland corruption affair in Jerusalem, the rot at the IEC with respect to buying turbines from German giant Siemens, and charges against a host of mayors and local government heads – all show how the rot flourished at the highest levels.

All these cases demonstrate an engrained culture of corruption at the public's expense. The amazing thing is that these are not isolated cases, they're not just a few rotten apples. Corruption is an industry encompassing dozens pf people, including those very high up in government, people within the party machines, consultants, counsels and lobbyists. And, sometimes, people who are not seasoned criminals at all, but just normal law-abiding citizens who found themselves sinking into the mud because they thought, "Cosi fan tutte" – "Everybody does it."