Paul Alster
Israel-based print and broadcast journalist

Pride in the prosecution of corrupt Israeli politicians

Leaving aside any personal opinions as to whether or not Yisrael Beitenu leader Avigdor Liberman did or did not commit an offence that warrants him having to resign his post as Foreign Minister, the investigation into his affairs has once again shown that, for the most part, Israel’s judiciary remains relatively independent and able to go after the highest in the land when there is a suspicion of wrongdoing.

In conversation with a friend from overseas recently he asked if I wasn’t completely embarrassed and ashamed that yet another Israeli politician is in the dock?

“On the contrary” I told him. “It at least shows that for all the shenanigans and dirty deals that seem to go on here – as in most other countries around the world – Israel is able to prosecute even the very highest in the land, (like former President Moshe Katzav), when they do wrong.”

With the endemic corruption and cronyism rampant in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, (Europe and the US are not in any way excluded either), how many other countries have successfully investigated and, more to the point, prosecuted their leaders and seen them subject to the full weight of the law?

Yes, of course, it’s embarrassing when former president Moshe Katsav is ‘sent down’ for rape, when a party leader such as Aryeh Deri is jailed for bribery, former PM Ehud Olmert judged to have gone beyond the pale, and now, quite possibly, FM Liberman set to face further scrutiny over his activities of the last decade. But if anyone is seriously suggesting that Israeli politicians are less virtuous than others in all corners of the world they should take a very close look in their own backyard.

Watergate, the Lewinsky affair, and many other scandals are taken as part and parcel of US politics. In Britain, the Westland affair, ‘Cash for Questions’, ‘Cash for Peerages’, and the recent scandal of parliamentary abuse of expenses, gives the former colonial power no right to take the moral high ground. In France, former President Sarkozy is under investigation for taking large sums of money from France’s richest woman to finance his political campaigns against the law of the land, and let’s not even begin to list the charges against former Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi!

Africa has, of course, long been seen as mostly, if not wholly corrupt, hundreds of millions of people living in abject poverty while their leaders strut their stuff in gaudy palatial residences and rule by decree, while in Asia, Pakistani politicians have been pursued on all manner of corruption charges, and in China, we have seen only this year the huge scandal of the potential leader-in-waiting being entangled in a poisoning scandal in which his wife was convicted and he was shamed and removed from office.

So, while a relatively few countries have done as Israel does and sought to bring their politicians to book, the sad truth is that in most corners of the world they still get away with it or manage to use their influence to have things swept under the carpet while presenting a veneer of squeaky clean, moral government.

Although the argument against washing our dirty linen in public holds plenty of water and it can be extremely embarrassing when the international media has a field day portraying Israeli politicians as more corrupt than the rest due to the number of convictions,  I much prefer, and indeed am proud that here in Israel, (where the system is far from perfect and plenty do slip through the net), the highest in the land can sometimes be held to account, a reflection of a functioning democracy doing what it should do – hold all men equal before the law.

About the Author
Paul Alster is an Israel-based broadcast journalist with a special interest in the Israel/Palestinian conflict and Middle East politics. He is a regular contributor to a variety of international news websites including The Jerusalem Report, and was formerly's main Middle East correspondent. He can be followed on Twitter @paul_alster or at