Does Israel Have A Culture Of Corruption?

Israel is beginning to look like old time Chicago politics.  The previous governor of Illinois, a former Chicago congressman, is in jail, home to four of the last seven governors of Illinois, and another popular former Chicago congressman is in jail now, with his wife, a former city alderman, going in when he gets out.  They’re only the latest in a long list of former Chicago area politicians to go to prison for corruption.

Israeli politicians seem to have found their role models. On Saturday a leading contender in Tuesday’s election for president of Israel, Labor MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, dropped out of the race in the face of police investigations into allegations of how he paid for his Jaffa apartment.  He called the timing of the late-breaking news of the police probe and reports that he is an avid gambler a “targeted assassination.”

It’s just the latest scandal to hit Israeli politics.

The previous prime minister of Israel, Ehud Olmert, is on his way to prison (with more charges pending), where the previous president is already residing. 

Olmert has been sentenced to six years for corruption for actions while mayor of Jerusalem; also found guilty in the same case was his successor, former mayor Uri Lupolianski.

Former President Moshe Katsav is serving a seven-year sentence for rape and sexual assault.  He is not the first disgraced president.  Ezer Weizman resigned in 2000 after it was revealed he had accepted over $300,000 in cash gifts. 

They’re just the most notable in a long list of cabinet ministers, mayors and other high officials who left in disgrace and often went to the slammer for corruption, abuse of power and other crimes.  Many of them returned public office.

The leader of the ultraorthodox Shas party, Aryeh Deri, is an ex-con who resumed his post as party chief after getting out of jail and is back in Knesset.  His fellow Shas cabinet minister, Shlomo Benizri, was sentenced to four years for taking bribes.

Tzachi Hanegbi, a close confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was convicted of perjury four years ago and is back in Knesset. 

Avraham Hirschson, former finance minister was sentenced to five years for financial crimes; former justice minister Haim Ramon was convicted of sexual misconduct; Gonen Segev, a physician and former energy and infrastructure minister, was convicted of smuggling ecstasy tables into Israel and forging a diplomatic passport.

Transparency International's Global Corruption Barometer for 2013 found Israeli political and cultural institutions were among the most corrupt of the member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

"Israel ranked second to only Greece among (OECD) nations on the perception that government is run by a few big interests," which was seen as a sign of "deep-rooted failures of governance," the Jerusalem Post reported.

Famed American humorist Mark Twain once said, "There is no distinctly American criminal class — except Congress."  What would he say about Knesset?

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.