The Stinking Oligarch Scandal

. In Israel of the 21st century, wealth is the regime. Those who make the decisions in Israel are not the marionettes dancing in Jerusalem but the string pullers of Herzliya Pituah.

When she passed away a few months ago, sociologist Dr. Vicki Shiran left behind a ticking bomb: a research paper on political corruption in Israel. According to the study written in the 1990s, understanding political corruption is a critical factor in understanding the legal, political and moral reality in which we now live.

The most outstanding finding in her work is this: From 1948 to 1997, most of the ministers and MKs put on trial on corruption charges were outsiders. Eight of the 14 were religious. Eight of the 14 were Mizrahi, nine of the 14 represented marginal (or subversive) political forces. Moreover, in all the years of Mapai, not a single minister or MK from the ruling party was put on trial. In all the years of the Likud regime, not a single MK from the ruling party, no matter how junior, went on trial. However, the two ministers who were prosecuted, the only two ministers jailed in the 56 years history of the state, were religious and Mizrahi and subversive - Aharon Abuhatzeira and Aryeh Deri.

It is very clear what emerges from Shiran's revealing study: there is something problematic in the pattern of Israeli corruption scandals. When such a corruption scandal touches on someone in the real centers of power in Israel, the scandal tends to fade - Amos Ben-Gurion, Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin, Ezer Weizman, Peres-Balass Weizman, Abba Eban, Teddy Kollek, Eli Hurvitz, Noni Mozes, Yossi Ginossar, Rafi Peled, Yaakov Peri, Shimon Sheves, Simha Dinitz, Ehud Olmert, the Center Party's non-profit organizations, the Ehud Barak non-profit organizations. On the other hand, when the scandal touches on the religious, the Mizrahim, the "others," there is a reasonable chance there will be a conviction or at the very least a political execution.

That is why the gas scandal is so hugely, dramatically important. It is the first scandal to be investigated here in a decade that touches on the real power center of the new Israel. It brings into the interrogation rooms not only the vote contractors from the margins of the country, but the tycoons from the center. This is the first scandal that doesn't deal with the small fry of a dying political system, but with the capitalist sharks of the economic power system that rules Israeli nowadays.

It must be understood: trying to deal with the connection between wealth and the regime was innocent, naive, almost anachronistic. In Israel of the 21st century, wealth is the regime. Those who make the decisions in Israel are not the marionettes dancing in Jerusalem but the string pullers of Herzliya Pituah. Those who replaced the old regime of Labor are not the Likud, but a regime of wealthy preying oligarchs.

True, the new Israeli oligarchs are not as dark as their Russian counterparts. They don't eliminate rivals with bullets, but with secretly taped recordings. They don't use goons to advance their interests, but private investigators. A few of these oligarchs are people who managed to win public assets through crooked privatization. Like their Russian counterparts, some of the new Israeli oligarchs are people who took over critical junctures of power in the state. They are the masters of the land.

Until recently, the law enforcement agencies would not dare approach the oligarchy of Israeli privatization. It was easier for them to deal with the apparatchiks from Shas than to clash with the most powerful people in the economy; it was easier rummaging through the bags of runny-nosed politicians than to touch the cuffs of the robber barons who controlled the politicians.

That's why what happened this week is indeed a revolution. Under the leadership of Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, the Israeli police dared do what it has not done since the days of Aharon Barak as attorney general in the mid-1970s: it provoked power itself.

However an impressive opening is not sufficient. Now the investigators must be monitored closely lest they whitewash the investigation. Now is the time to make sure that the police, prosecution and press comb Yossi Maiman and all the others involved in the affair with the same steel combs used on Aryeh Deri and David Appel. Now is the time to make sure that police, prosecutors and journalists dig deep into the huge Pandora's box called the gas deal. Many of contemporary Israel's problems are deep at the bottom of that box.

If the law enforcement officials don't prove now that they are dealing with the oligarchs' scandal with the same determination they dealt with the Shas scandals, they will strip the term "rule of law" of all meaning. They will lend their hands to Israel becoming a country of corrupt oligarchs, Russia-style.