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Dan Perry
"I don't mind a reasonable amount of trouble"

Corrupt to the bone

Recent revelations of venality by a government official point to a national split – a 'good Israel' and a 'bad Israel'
Transportation Minister Miri Regev holds a press conference ahead of Israel's 76th Independence Day Ceremony at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, on May 8, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

All Israel seems to be talking about Transportation Minister Miri Regev, the subject of a Channel 13 TV investigation alleging widespread corruption. The allegations included her rewarding political support from municipal leaders with taxpayer-funded infrastructure projects. It was all shocking, in a way – but also not at all surprising. This way of being is a feature, not a bug.

It has long been clear (or should have been to anyone paying attention) that these are the norms established in Israel during the long years of Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party-led right-religious coalition. It is essentially a mafia whose supporters don’t care one way or another for various reasons – just as Netanyahu’s backers don’t care about his ongoing bribery trial. Many of them even like it.

Israel’s current leadership did not invent corruption, and Israel did not invent corruption. There was corruption in Israel since the state was established, and corruption played a big role in the eventual downfall of the Labor Party in 1977, after 29 years in power. To some extent, corruption in the Likud played a part in the return of Labor to power in 1992 (the slogan at demonstrations back then was “We’re fed up with the corrupt”). But all this was child’s play compared to what now goes on.

The current corruption in Israel is related to more than stitched-up tenders and the appointment of toady incompetents and improper procedures, which is the stuff of the Regev scandal. There is a far deeper systemic mutation at play.

On a basic level – let’s call it the tactical – there is Netanyahu’s own leadership style. His modus operandi is to ensure that those around him are incompetent and unworthy, so that no one poses a challenge or overshadows him. That is why, in general, the few Likud politicians who were personally gifted – who possessed a spine, or dare we even say a highly functioning brain – were pushed out of the party. That is why so many members of the current political opposition have roots in the Likud.

So if there is one thing we can be certain of about “Finance Minister” Bezalel Smotrich, it is that he has no clue about finance (this self-proclaimed “proud homophobe” has stated that the economy should be run by religious law). If there is one thing we can assume about “National Security Minister” Itamar Ben-Gvir, it is that he is a convicted criminal (his array of convictions include support for terrorism). If there is a cyber minister or an intelligence minister or a minister for women’s affairs, all of them will be unsuitable.

Such cynicism has a price. Appointing incompetents begets incompetence. The result was evident in the dysfunction on October 7. The events leading up to the Hamas massacre, the mind-numbing paralysis on the day itself, and the conduct since then have all reflected this.

The second level – the strategic level – is a true corruption of the spirit. This directly relates to the stubborn occupation of millions of Arabs in the West Bank who do not have equal rights. The mutual violence this begets, the human rights violations that inevitably result, have created terrible norms of behavior that have permeated beyond the West Bank border into Israel proper.

At this point, there are two types of Israel, and they seem hardly the same country.

One Israel understands all this and tries to end the occupation and separate from the Palestinians and find a better way. We can call this part “Good Israel.” This is Startup Nation Israel, Nobel Prize Israel, and also (perhaps oddly) it is Fauda Israel. If a grand correction even comes, it will come from there.

But it is the other Israel that is currently in power – “Bad Israel.” It does not understand and do not care and are not shocked and will fix nothing. They will only seize more and more for themselves with nonchalant vulgarity. They will start wars in which they do not fight. They are not shocked by scandal and care nothing for morality. This part of Israel is corrupt to the bone. This part of Israel is the engine of the slow but steady national suicide that is well underway.

The electorate itself is more complex and fluid with many people in the middle and some nuance and much confusion. But as for the political class, there really is a clear dichotomy.

This is the larger lesson of the Regev scandal, and it will not be resolved by a police investigation. A conflict is coming.

About the Author
Dan Perry is the former Cairo-based Middle East editor and London-based Europe/Africa editor of the Associated Press, served as chairman of the Foreign Press Association in Jerusalem, and authored two books about Israel. A technologist by education, he is the Chief Business Development Officer of the adtech company Engageya and Managing Partner of the award-winning communications firm Thunder11. His Substack, Ask Questions Later, is available for subscribers at https://danperry.substack.com/. Also follow him at twitter.com/perry_dan; www.linkedin.com/in/danperry1; www.instagram.com/danperry63; www.facebook.com/DanPerryWriter/; and https://muckrack.com/dan_perry
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