Whose Money Is It?

In all the fuss over Moshe Talansky's testimony about the money he raised and transferred to Ehud Omert, one question was hardly raised at all: What was the source of the money, and who are the donors? If what was published is correct, the reference is to donations that were made during Olmert's campaign for the mayoralty of Jerusalem, when he defeated Teddy Kollek, and during the primaries for the Likud leadership. The public furor that is threatening the prime minister and jeopardizing the continued existence of the government coalition has pushed aside the basic question about what has become a practice in Israeli politics - receiving funds from abroad for election campaigns.

Whatever the status of these donations in terms of criminal law, to ensure integrity and transparency, the law obliges candidates and party lists to publish the names of Israeli donors. But here the reference is to large sums that were contributed by rich Jews in the United States with a view to influencing the outcome of the elections in Israel, and these donors have remained anonymous. No democratic country in the world allows donations from abroad to its election campaigns. In the unique Israeli reality in which the ties with the Diaspora are significant, the border has become blurred over the years between a donation to the state or a public enterprise, and involvement in the elections.

The Israeli political system has for years suffered from the fact that certain groups among the Jews of the Diaspora who are not Israeli citizens and do not intend to come and live in Israel, have an influence over the reality and the political discourse here by way of their donations. Often these are persons of great wealth, but there are also people who make small donations. In this way, for example, huge sums stream into the settlements or go to various non-profit organizations of the right, but also to groups identified with the left (such as the New Israel Fund). With all the problems that are involved in this, too, it is a different matter to give direct financial support to a candidate or a party.

It is the right of the electoral public - the sovereign - to know the identity of these donors from abroad so it can try to check their personalities, positions and affairs. It is clear that the prosecution will not pressure Talansky to mention names, and it is reasonable to expect that Olmert's lawyers, in the promised cross-examination, will not be happy to reveal the identity of those who supported him while he was active in the Likud. Talansky will not volunteer such information of his own free will.

It is the court's task to ask these questions, in the name of the citizens of Israel who find themselves in a situation in which people who are not citizens wish to have an influence via their capital on the election results. If Talansky refuses to hand over these names, perhaps because in some instances the donations contravened American laws, there will be clear public and legal implications. But it is not possible that an investigation that might determine the fate of the prime minister will leave in the dark the most important question - where did the money come from? And on this occasion, and in anticipation of the primaries in Kadima, pressure must be brought to bear on the candidates to state that they have not received donations from abroad, and if they have received such donations, they must announce who the donors were. It is our right as citizens to know.