Between Financial Corruption and Political Corruption

Israel Harel
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Chief of Staff of the Israel Defence Force Aviv Kohavi and commander of the Israeli Air Force Amikam Norkin at the Palmachim Air Force Base, October 27, 2019.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Chief of Staff of the Israel Defence Force Aviv Kohavi and commander of the Israeli Air Force Amikam Norkin at the Palmachim Air Force Base, October 27, 2019.Credit: Reuters
Israel Harel

Many right-wing voters agree in principle with the advertisement published this week by Israel Air Force veterans, but it’s hard for them to vote for Kahol Lavan. The party’s leadership includes people who speak in favor of a Palestinian state and who supported the Oslo Accords and uprooting the settlements in the Gaza Strip.

Kahol Lavan is aware of this problem and has devoted significant resources to proving to religious Zionists that the party is not leftist and that the real issue in Monday’s election is rescuing Israeli society from moral degradation. Yamina stagnation in the polls shows that this argument has not fallen on deaf ears.

Rabbis and party hacks are laboring to downplay the moral argument. As always, they say, the principal battle, the fateful one, is between right-wing and left-wing worldviews.

While this is true, many younger people, are confronting their political and rabbinic leaders with a difficult demand: to explain, especially to men and women studying at yeshivot and midrashot, respectively, why they are obligated to support parties in the current governing coalition (especially Yamina), when the person leading the coalition has been charged with corruption. After all, such support contradicts the Jewish laws the rabbis and educators repeat constantly.

Rabbis and yeshiva heads have “closed their Talmuds” and gone from community to community, from yeshiva to midrasha, to dissuade undecided voters from casting their ballots for Kahol Lavan (or Otzma Yehudit). They have two main answers for their students – and for the general public, which is also perplexed.

The first is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may be a hedonist, but he isn’t tainted with corruption. The cases against him were fabricated for political reasons, since everyone knows that the top levels of the justice system are comprised mainly of leftists.

The second, which is more complex, doesn’t reject the charges of corruption, but argues that there’s a substantive difference between “financial” corruption and “political” corruption.

If Netanyahu is tainted with financial corruption, argues Rabbi Daniel Shilo – a man of great reputation who formerly served as chief rabbi of Kedumim – this does not endanger the country, which at bottom is not corrupt. Political corruption, in contrast, could cost the state its very existence.

Here’s an example of political corruption: ceding parts of the homeland and endangering the lives of its citizens due to hunger for a Nobel Prize, a desire for fame both abroad and at home and a craving to leave one’s mark on history. Prime ministers tainted with this kind of corruption brought us the Oslo disaster and the uprooting of the Gaza Strip settlements.

Shilo’s conclusion is that it’s better to have a prime minister who is suspected of personal corruption but who does the right thing politically than a prime minister who is morally unblemished but is suspected of blindness that ultimately leads to political corruption.

Only utter purists are capable of ruling out the argument that political corruption is worse than personal corruption. Nevertheless, even the most honest rabbis – like Shilo – repress the truth: Netanyahu is also suspected of political corruption. Moreover, he is much more powerful than Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz and could therefore, thanks to his control of his Likud party’s captive audience, go much farther than Gantz could.

Even on the eve of an election, we mustn’t whitewash his political sins. In the past, he conducted negotiations over giving up the Golan Heights and voted for the disengagement from Gaza. His latest promises – building in the West Bank’s E1 area (which connects Ma’aleh Adumim to Jerusalem) and in Jerusalem’s Givat Hamatos neighborhood – are old and outworn and have no credibility.

Due to pressure from his coalition partners, he won’t go as far as former prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin (who signed the Oslo Accords) and Ariel Sharon (who uprooted the Gaza settlements). But his willingness to recognize a Palestinian state and give the Negev’s Halutza region to the Palestinians as part of U.S. President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” are evidence of the heights of “political corruption” to which, dear rabbis, this merely personal, “financial” corruption could soar.