Why Are Israeli Politicians Silent on Corruption?

The top contenders in the upcoming elections have scarcely said a word about the Yisrael Beiteinu graft probe.

Raviv Drucker
Raviv Drucker
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Labor's Isaac Herzog and Hatnuah's Tzipi Livni tour the Gaza border, Dec. 11, 2014.
Labor's Isaac Herzog and Hatnuah's Tzipi Livni tour the Gaza border, Dec. 11, 2014.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Raviv Drucker
Raviv Drucker

Surely you have heard the resounding response of prime ministerial candidate Isaac Herzog to the massive investigation into alleged corruption in Yisrael Beiteinu. Who hasn’t? And there’s no need bore you by repeating the pointed remarks by his running mate, Tzipi Livni. No surprise there. She has always been on the side of integrity, since way back when she nearly stammered herself to death in the face of the probes of Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert.

And Moshe Kahlon? What a passion to burn the corruption out of the rotten system could be seen in his (terrified) face when asked about the scandal on Wednesday. On Friday, the crusading reformer managed to squeeze out a few words on the subject. Kahlon said he was sad and that corruption undermines trust in the government. How ‘bout that?

As for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, even jokes are superfluous. Back when he was Sharon’s rival, I asked him why he never spoke about the corruption scandals surrounding then-Prime Minister Sharon. Netanyahu said, in a surprising moment of honesty, that everyone would remind him of his own scandals, and it’s best to keep quiet. It’s doubtful that’s why he has kept quiet on the latest scandal. He probably lost the ability to be disgusted by such things long ago. The Yisrael Beiteinu probe has mostly uncovered rot in the top bureaucracy. Many clerks, secretaries, accountants and legal advisers must avert their eyes for government funds to reach the exact address specified by the various corrupt officials.

Equally depressing is that a slew of mayors and heads of nonprofits presumably realized the only way to get state funding is to bribe Yisrael Beiteinu politicians. They thought it was normal, and had good reason to believe it would work. According to news reports, this was the norm in more than just one ministry. The heads of the agriculture, interior and tourism ministries, as well as the heads of the coalition parties, said nothing, lest Foreign Minister and Yisrael Beiteinu head Avigdor Lieberman, who is known to be vindictive, erase them from his future coalition partners Favorites. As long as they’re neither seeing nor speaking, Yisrael Beiteinu has the Public Security Ministry, too. The Anti-Drug Authority, which is Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch’s jurisdiction, is also being probed but he knows nothing. The dirt apparently went around or behind him. So it was refreshing to hear that some Labor Party Knesset members, namely Shelly Yacimovich, Moshe Mizrahi and Miki Rosenthal, did not consider chairman Herzog’s desire to suck up to Lieberman.

When the Netanyahu-Lapid-Bennett government was formed, Finance Minister Yair Lapid was quick to announce there would be no coalition money, that the corrupt practice of giving parties money to spend as they please was over. Even Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said something about the young blood that was coming in and clearing out the dirty traditions of their predecessors. But the coalition money continued to flow as always. But now Yair “if only they hadn’t stopped us in the middle” Lapid isn’t explaining how it happened to him. And Bennet? Bennet isn’t apologizing for his zigzagging. In his first election campaign, the Habayit Hayehudi chairman spoke quite a bit about the unacceptable ways of the system. Once in office, he got in bed with exactly the people he denounced and supervised from above the exact allocation of funds to exactly the same places. The cowardly silence of our politicians perhaps explains why an honest man like Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir would join Lieberman, and why Shamir would allow Lieberman to appoint all of the officials in his own ministry, and turn a blind eye to the practices of his party. Maybe during this election season one of our cowardly politicians will at least promise that there will be no coalition funds during the next government?

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