This country has gotten used to political criminals – each prime minister over the last quarter century has at some point faced criminal charges. The latest allegations against Netanyahu mark his second strike in this field, and fail to impress a country inundated with corruption.
Rabin took office for the first time in 1974, and had to resign after only three years after admitting that his wife had a few thousands dollar in a secret American bank account from his time as the Israeli Ambassador to the US. He came back from “exile” first in the 80s to serve as the defense minister for both Peres and Shamir, and then won the 1992 parliamentary elections.
In 1996 following Rabin’s assassination, Netanyahu took over, and after three years in office he called for new elections. But then allegations of abusing state budgets in the sum of a few thousands shekels came to light, when private moving contractor Avner Amadi – a former Likud member and ally to Netanyahu – claimed that the first family failed to pay him for services he provided. The case was closed for lack of evidence, but the Attorney General believed that Netanyahu and his wife ought to be prosecuted to some extent for corruption.
In 1999 following his election campaign, Ehud Barak and other Avoda officials (including one Isaac Herzog), were questioned for receiving millions of shekels in illegal campaign funds from ad-hoc organizations and super PACs. This was in defiance of Israeli election laws that state that campaign funds may come only from the state budget. The investigation ended in 2006 with no charges made, for lack of evidence (mainly due to Herzog not speaking in his investigations).
Upon his election as prime minister in 2001, Ariel Sharon was greeted with allegations of corruption for aiding businessman Dudi Appel with real estate projects in Lod and the Greek island of Patroklos. Appel allegedly employed Sharon’s son, Gilad, and paid him a hefty salary of a few million shekels a year for “consulting”. This money was believed to be meant for Sharon Sr., then Housing Minister. Appel was eventually charged with bribing several Israeli politicians, including the then mayor of Lod, but the legal advisor to the government, Meni Mazuz, decided there was not enough evidence to file charges against Sharon and the mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert, for their involvement with Appel.
Ehud Olmert followed in 2006. He was found guilty of accepting bribes while serving as mayor of Jerusalem, from Israeli contractor Hillel Cherney in the Holyland real estate project case, and sentenced to six years in prison. That is on top of other corruption cases that were tied to his name – Rishon Tours, receiving double funding for his trips abroad while in office and using the extra cash to cover his wife’s costs, The House on Crémieux St, his pens collection, his wife’s paintings – all cases where Olmert was believed to be getting bribes, none of the cases saw the inside of a court room, and all were dismissed for lack of blame or evidence.
Fifteen years later we are back to Netanyahu. And the least I could say is that he seems to have stepped up his game. Now we are dealing with millions and not thousands. Unlike the rest of prime ministers on the list that followed his first term, Netanyahu has not accepted bribes, at least not in this case (Bibitours – the story uncovered by Raviv Drucker from channel 10 news, with allegations similar to the ones brought up against Olmert in RishonTours – is still under investigation by the Attorney General).
Netanyahu is not corrupt the same way Olmert and Sharon were, and even not as corrupt as Barak. But time and time again he abused public funds. He believes that he ought to be a role model for Israeli citizens and politicians. He’s not. In a normal society he would have stepped down a long time ago. The fact that he still has a good chance of being the prime minister after these coming elections says more about how used to corruption we have become than how clean he is.