A Crime Syndicate Inside Israel's Corridors of Power

Politicians, wheeler-dealers, PR people and go-betweens from Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party get up in the morning and drive to the Knesset in order to steal from the public.

Gidi Weitz
Gidi Weitz
Avigdor Lieberman and Faina Kirshenbaum during a Knesset faction meeting, November 12, 2013.
Avigdor Lieberman and Faina Kirshenbaum during a Knesset faction meeting, November 12, 2013.Credit: Emil Salman
Gidi Weitz
Gidi Weitz

A notice publicized on Monday by the Justice Ministry regarding the Yisrael Beitenu scandal describes a structure and modus operandi of a crime syndicate that operated inside Israel's corridors of power. The organization was fueled by the tens of millions of shekels that the third Netanyahu government distributed to its partners, the coalition money that was supposed to enable the parties to implement their ideological agenda. In practice, this money was used by the Yisrael Beitenu leadership to accumulate personal wealth and to finance the party, using the methods of white-collar mafias: deception, extortion, exploitation, concealment and tampering with evidence.

The organization was headed by Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirshenbaum, who took substantial cuts from public funds. A huge sum was used to pay for a secret investment by the politician in a tobacco importing company, state funds camouflaged as support for legitimate organizations paid for luxurious private trips abroad for herself and her family, and state-of-the-art electronic devices that were seized in her home. She received some of the money in cash.

Kirshenbaum didn’t take all the loot for herself. Some of the money was transferred under her orders and in a tortuous manner to the party. Government funds, earmarked originally for social or governmental purposes, were used to pay for transportation for party activists, jobs for go-betweens, fictitious positions in government-supported organizations for associates and party activists.

Her right-hand man was allegedly the party chief of staff, David Godovsky. He was the deputy minister’s emissary to several non-profit organizations and local governments who received money from the party and were later blackmailed by him. He demanded a fee of half a million shekels in cash from one of the organizations in return of the party’s support for a national project.

Several other leaders of the party founded in 1999 by the present Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman are under suspicion. One of them is former Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov, who is suspected of conditioning the transfer of state funds to a tourism initiative on their transferring a payment to his girlfriend.

The former director general of the Agriculture Ministry, Rami Cohen, is suspected of transferring coalition money in exchange for a bribe: In a raid of his home the police seized 450,000 shekels in cash. On Tuesday 16 people were informed that indictments will be served against them. That’s only the promo: After the holidays indictments will be served against several more people, and a few months from now a report is expected about prosecutions in the National Roads Authority (Ma’atz) corruption scandal.

In 2004, when he served as transportation minister in the government of Ariel Sharon, Lieberman appointed his associate Alex Viznitzer director general of the roads authority. According to the evidence gathered by the police, Viznitzer – like several of his successors in the job – turned the national company into a sophisticated bribery industry that provided a living to associates.

The Yisrael Beitenu file and the National Road Company file are two different chapters in the same sad story. Its “heroes” are politicians, wheeler-dealers, PR people and go-betweens who get up in the morning and drive to the Knesset or to the government ministry in order to steal from the public coffers, while benefiting from priceless connections with government leaders.

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