The People Choose Corruption

This is a government in which politicians and senior officials give out benefits in exchange for cash. Looking at things soberly, there is no escaping the conclusion that this is the character of Israel’s ruling class

Roughly 3,000 right-wing Israelis attend pro-Netanyahu rally at Tel Aviv's Fairgrounds on Wednesday, August 9, 2017. Poster reads: "My prime minister."
Ilan Assayag

Ever since Ariel Sharon was investigated for his alleged involvement in the Greek Island affair, the norm in Israel is that sitting prime ministers are suspected of criminal wrongdoing. That’s the minimum. In the case of Ehud Olmert, it ended with a prison sentence. The public has grown accustomed to this. That’s how it is when a sitting president is sent to prison for rape. That’s how it is when cases of bribery involving high-level officials follow one another: the Yisrael Beiteinu affair; the Land Authority case; the Siemens-Electric Corporation affair; the Holyland trial; the trial of former Finance Minister Avraham Hirschson; and a conveyor belt of mayors and local council heads.

The submarine affair also appears to be part of the bribery industry operating in the top echelon of the government. This is a system, an organizational culture, a culture of bribery, theft, fraud. The penny dropped during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in 2014, when it became apparent that Israel was undergoing a process of fascistization, increasing racism and weakening democracy. There was growing awareness that only a catastrophe would end the occupation and that the dream of two states was gone. These days the second penny is dropping. It’s impossible to ignore the cluster of affairs, trials, allegations and investigations. It’s impossible to relate to these diverse cases as separate issues. One should recognize the fact that this cluster is not coincidental – it’s symptomatic.

The good news is that there are still judges in Jerusalem (to paraphrase Menachem Begin), attorneys in the State Prosecutor’s Office and investigators in the police force. The bad news is that the rulers in Israel are corrupt and corrupting. This is a government in which politicians and senior officials give out benefits in exchange for cash. Looking at things soberly, there is no escaping the conclusion that this is the character of Israel’s ruling class. Corruption has become endemic to the way in which this country is run.

Interior Minister Arye Dery, who was once found guilty and sent to prison, is again being interrogated by the police. If the public took responsibility for the way things are, it would have to admit that it tends to elect people who are corrupt and corrupting, and that such people tend to be drawn to public office – since apparently corruption is endemic to those who hold power – so that they can realize their corrupt intentions once they get elected. The public would have to admit that it tends to vote for people who put greed above public interest.

This is a frightening conclusion, but it’s hard to find a more reasonable one. Something is rotten in the Jewish kingdom. In a democratic state, the public gets the government it deserves, and the Israeli public deserves a prime minister and mayors with a tendency to lawbreaking and a hefty proportion of senior army officers with a tendency to commit sexual offenses. That’s the situation.

Soon, Sara Netanyahu will be brought to court in a case relating to managing the prime minister’s residence. She is alleged to have systematically used public coffers to pay for family and private expenses – covetousness, selfishness, avarice. This cloud of allegations has accompanied her for years. It’s not new and the public, as mentioned above, gets what it deserves. Apparently the norms in high places are not different than the ones held by simple folks.

It’s self-evident that these are not the declared norms. No one, from the top of the pyramid to the puniest of citizens, has an openly stated position supporting corruption and criminal wrongdoing. Everyone always assumes a pose of moral righteousness. But in hidden recesses, under the table, one can assume that the combinatorics of fixers, lobbyists and the upper echelon are not alien to the average Israeli. Everyone does it. The member of the central committee, the fixer, the deputy minister, the mayor, the reserves general, the worthy minister, the honorable prime minister, the president – these are all Israelis, flesh of the nation’s flesh. They are not elevated above the nation but are its official representatives. The people elevate them, the people vote for them. People choose corruption. And when corruption is combined with increasing fascism, a gloomy picture emerges.