Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will fly to Moscow on Thursday to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin – to show the voters back at home that he is received by the most important world leaders, while his rival Benny Gantz is not.
The autocrat from Moscow joins the presidents of the United States and Brazil, who have already starred in the Likud election campaign. But we must not let stunts such as the trip to the Kremlin divert attention from the issue which was responsible for the calling of an early election – and over which they are being held: Netanyahu’s demand that his personal corruption receive public, parliamentary and legal backing.
The police investigations of Netanyahu, the attorney general’s document listing his suspected crimes and the recent revelations on the prime minister’s financial links with his American cousin Nathan Milikowsky all show Netanyahu’s view of the norms that should guide the conduct of public figures: It is permitted to accept and even request luxurious indulgences from parties with vested interests; it is permitted to receive boxes of cigars and to immediately use sensitive diplomatic connections to help out the giver; it is permitted to receive huge sums in cash from second- degree relatives; it is permitted to have the generous relative also pay for the legal expenses of the leader under suspicion; it is permitted to buy shares at an enormous “discount”; it is permitted to demand that the public pay more for basic services and for the stockholders in a public company to absorb huge losses in order to receive favorable media coverage on a news site; it is permitted to bargain over the regulation of the press in return for favorable coverage in a newspaper; it is permitted to have the public pay for your private expenses, as far as the imagination can go; it is forbidden to spend even a shekel from your own pocket, if there is no public pressure to do so; enforcing the law is persecution intended to advance private or political interests, and not a basic public principle.
If the distorted ethical code that Netanyahu has formulated through his actions while in power were followed in the entire public sector, every ethical standard would be destroyed. If the prime minister is allowed to receive “gifts,” “discounts,” envelopes filled with cash and flattering pictures of his wife, why should other politicians, judges and police officers, army officers, rabbis and doctors, executives and teachers not cash in too? Many of them have friends and cousins who want to pamper them, finance them and help them out – and here or there receive a quick appointment, license or other benefit from the authorities. If the prime minister is allowed, then they too want their share of the goldmine and the government will become a mechanism for distributing bribes and protection money.
The meaning of a vote for Likud and the right-wing parties, which want to put an end to all the legal proceedings against Netanyahu, is support for corruption as a way of life and rule, and the dismantlement of the law enforcement mechanisms and the principle of equality for all citizens. Those who hold the country dear – and believe that public service is intended for the public benefit, and not for making politicians and officials rich – must vote in favor of ending Netanyahu’s term and pursuing the legal proceedings against him until their conclusion.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.