What began as an investigation into alleged corruption involving senior figures in Yisrael Beiteinu is turning out to be a story about how the state budget is — or is not — administered. Twenty years after the Aryeh Deri corruption case was supposed to bring full transparency to the budget process and make it impervious to embezzlement or the diversion of funds, the national budget is full of breaches and loopholes. As the investigation broadens, there is a growing suspicion that the corruption went beyond marginal line items to affect a core element of the allocation process: how the state outsources work to external organizations.
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The scope of the investigation and the way it has been expanding ought to set off alarm bells among all those responsible for managing state funds: the Justice Ministry, the Prime Minister’s Office and especially the Finance Ministry’s budget department and its accountant general. They should meet and examine the budget with a fine-toothed comb for loopholes. If, as it is alleged, there are people who extracted tens of millions of shekels in bribes in exchange for diverting funds from the budget to the bodies that paid the bribes, then it is possible the misuse of state funds was on a much greater scale, possibly reaching hundreds of millions of shekels.
Precisely because of the depth of the alleged corruption that has been uncovered, the silence of the politicians is disturbing. Aside from Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-On, who regularly speaks about this issue, other politicians — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; the leaders of the Zionist Camp, Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni; Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett and Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon — have not given serious public attention to the case, and certainly haven’t made it an important issue in their election campaigns. And that’s on top of the silence of the cabinet ministers in whose ministries serious crimes allegedly took place.
This is not just a case about Yisrael Beiteinu. In recent months, other serious corruption cases have also come to light: bribery in the Israel Electric Corporation, exceptional budgetary transfers to the World Zionist Organization’s settlements division, the sale of hundreds of public-housing apartments to yeshivas at an extraordinary discount and the takeover of the Mekorot Water Company by people close to Yisrael Beiteinu and Likud.
To prevent Israel from becoming a Third World state, determined and courageous action must be taken against corruption. In addition to “hermetically sealing” the budget and closing the loopholes, party leaders must put the war on corruption at the top of their agenda and restore the public’s faith in state institutions.