Corruption among Israeli leaders

  • israel-mexico-netanyahu
The first time I met former Israeli President Moshe Katzav was on a staircase - I was entering an apartment to interview a young woman whose husband had been killed while serving in the Israel Defence Forces.
by PAULA SLIER | Feb 16, 2017

Katzav was exiting, having paid his respects to the family as is customary for the president of Israel to do whenever a soldier dies, and we exchanged pleasantries. The next time I saw him he was entering prison on charges of rape and sexual assault.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the time that Katzav’s sentencing was “a day of sadness and shame” for Israel. “But there is also deep appreciation and pride in the Israeli justice system,” he observed.

Today no-one remembers much about Katzav’s tenure other than that he ended it behind bars. And I wonder how many remember Netanyahu’s remarks that could in retrospect prove to be prophetic of his own possible fate.

In the coming weeks it’s widely expected (but far from guaranteed) that Israeli police will indict Netanyahu after conducting multiple investigations into his alleged involvement in bribery and corruption.

The most serious charges point to Netanyahu accepting gifts like suits and cigars to the value of tens of thousands of dollars from wealthy businessmen. Netanyahu has vehemently denied any wrongdoing. 

Corruption scandals are nothing new to Netanyahu - or to Israel. They tend to leave many Israelis feeling ashamed but at the same time proud - knowing that nobody is above the law. 

Most Israelis I speak to believe that putting an Israeli president behind bars shows the strength of the country’s independent judiciary and law enforcement system. For all its faults, Israel’s democracy is the only one to have put a president - and a prime minister - in jail for their crimes. 

Like Katzav, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would no doubt prefer to be remembered for something other than his prison time. If Olmert could have it his way, the history books would record him as the Israeli leader who went further than anyone else to reach peace with the Palestinians.

During his final year in office, Olmert presented Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas with a written proposal expressing his readiness to give up almost all (94 per cent) of the West Bank, so a Palestinian state could be formed. Abbas didn’t bother to reply. 

But instead, Olmert will be remembered for being Israel’s first former prime minister to be sent to jail. Last month his legal team petitioned President Reuven Rivlin to pardon him of his remaining 27-month sentence for bribery and obstruction of justice. He’s already served almost a year; Rivlin has yet to respond. 

But while it’s certainly a plus for democracy, what does all this say about Israel’s moral compass and where it’s headed?

Ironically it was 40 years ago, almost to the month, that then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s wife, Leah, was found guilty of owning two US bank accounts which at the time was considered illegal.

Although the accounts were completely managed by his wife, Prime Minister Rabin took responsibility and resigned. The not-so-honourable behaviour of Israel’s politicians certainly goes back quite a few years.

Waking up to this fact seems to sadden and sometimes even surprise people, but why should Israel be held to a higher moral ground than other countries? It is after all a functioning modern state with all the challenges, successes and failures that come with that.

Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, once famously said: “When Israel has prostitutes and thieves we’ll be a state just like any other.” Ben-Gurion might not have been angling for corrupt politicians, but his state - just like others around the world - has them. Not least of all South Africa.

If one is measuring a country's moral compass then South Africa has fallen far since the halcyon days of Nelson Mandela. Accused of corruption, abuse of power and even tried for rape, President Jacob Zuma has so far managed to remain in power and evade the full wrath of the law.

Netanyahu might not be so lucky. Katzav and Olmert, and at least a dozen other Israeli politicians, certainly weren’t. Say what you like, something is working in Israel that South Africa is in dire need of. 

That’s not to say Israel is perfect - far from it. In Netanyahu’s defence it has to be said he gets a lot of bad press and he’s repeatedly accused the Israeli media of conducting a witch-hunt against him alongside his opponents who’re desperately trying to discredit him.

There are voices warning against overzealous criminal investigations and double standards. But no democracy is perfect - not Israel’s and not South Africa’s. Yet, while Israeli leaders caught doing wrong inevitably find themselves having to own up and face the consequences of their actions, Zuma’s cronies have let him off the hook once too often. South Africans have been shamed for too long - a little pride wouldn’t go amiss. 



1 Comment

  1. 1 Kathy 17 Feb
    Our Torah is full of them too, yet served their full potential as Hashem had placed them there. I wonder if we are still following the laws fully in this regard


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