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Filth, filth everywhere: who can you trust?

  • Sifrin Geoff HOME
How do corrupt politicians cling to power even after being fingered? In Israel, something that shields Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been accused of corruption time and time again, is Israelis’ perception that he is tough on security, which is crucial in that neighbourhood. Although disliked and mistrusted by many, his security credentials win the day.
by GEOFF SIFRIN | Feb 15, 2018

How did Jacob Zuma stay for so long as South Africa’s president when he was clearly destroying the country? Future historians will puzzle over it, but it has something to do with the ANC’s belief that it owns the country after leading the liberation struggle, and couldn’t allow itself to be seen as having installed a crook as president.

It was social critic Mark Twain who said: “Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.” While South Africans fume at Zuma’s shenanigans, political corruption was not invented here. It is endemic in Africa, Latin America, Asia and elsewhere, and includes countries like Israel, to many Jews’ dismay. In the US, law enforcement authorities are trying to nail President Donald Trump for the same thing.

Transparency International monitors sleaze in 176 countries. Its 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index lists Denmark and New Zealand as the most squeaky clean, least corrupt countries, both at number one. At the bottom of the list, at 174-176, are the most corrupt – North Korea, South Sudan and Somalia. The US is 18, Israel 28 and South Africa 64.

In Israel, several prime ministers over the past two decades have been criminally investigated, including Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon and Netanyahu.

Netanyahu, whose period in office is second only to Israel’s founding prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, has been investigated for a range of things, including receiving expensive gifts from businessmen, a newspaper collusion scandal, a submarine procurement affair, a problematic natural gas deal, a Bezeq (Israel’s telephone company) probe, a case involving furniture in the two Netanyahu residences, and others.

Former prime minister Ehud Barak has likened Netanyahu to a mafia boss. In July last year, he listed on Facebook criminal investigations linked to Netanyahu and posed the question to Israelis: “Hasn’t the time come to put an end to all of this? Have we all gone crazy?”

Netanyahu was initially investigated for fraud and breach of trust in 1997 during his first term as prime minister, and was accused of appointing an attorney general who would deal favourably with a political ally. Two years later, he was investigated for fraud regarding accusations about a government contractor.

Other prime ministers have been no less suspect. In the late 1990s, Sharon was believed to have taken hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in the so-called Greek Island affair. The accusation involved Israeli businessman David Appel bribing Sharon, who was then foreign minister, to help Appel win approval for a development in Greece.

Olmert was given a prison sentence in 2014 for fraud and breach of trust in the “Holyland affair”, a housing project in Jerusalem, where he was mayor before becoming prime minister. He was also convicted in 2016 of taking bribes in the “Talansky affair”, where American businessman Morris Talansky testified that he gave Olmert envelopes stuffed with cash.

Do South Africa and Israel share anything on this topic? Both countries have the sense of a grand mission. The former soared to euphoric heights through struggle stalwart and former president Nelson Mandela’s vision, and although things have since gone wobbly, it still resonates, although not as potently. Israel was seen by its founders as the glorious redemption of a Jewish state after the Holocaust, an inspiration and a haven for the Jewish people.

But politics is politics, and Twain’s take on the subject rings true, regardless of grand ideals.

Read Geoff Sifrin’s regular columns on his blog sifrintakingissue.wordpress.com

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