Almost every Israeli prime minister, minister or elected official was at one time or another involved in a police investigation or accused of corruption.
Three former ministers have served jail time for theft or bribery, and an Israeli president is currently serving time for rape and sexual harassment. Heads of banks have taken over public land through fraudulent means. Even those who have already been convicted, sentenced and served their time return to a hero’s welcome and are then elected to head political parties and are treated like kings.
The State Comptroller’s report deals with corruption in Israel as a routine matter, and claims that this is an all-encompassing problem that affects government companies and organizations, but the State Comptroller doesn’t have the authority to implement changes. The Israel Electric Company (IEC) has been losing billions of shekels, while huge amounts of money find their way to the pockets of IEC employees in exchange for union leaders’ support of very specific elected officials. The Haifa and Ashdod ports are managed by aggressive and corrupt workers’ unions, which receive millions of shekels in exchange for voting for specific ministers and party leaders.
There is a long list of government companies, including NTA (The Israel Metropolitan Mass Transit System) and local water companies, which waste millions of shekels on inefficient management systems.
These companies are run by chairmen who are appointed due to their political connections and who enjoy unjustifiably exorbitant salaries. Millions of shekels are transferred from state coffers to non-profit organizations that don’t actually provide any services. The State Comptroller points his or her finger at all these wrongdoings, but nothing is ever done to correct these violations. We shouldn’t be surprised, then, if within the endless governmental bureaucracy other elaborate Holyland-style affairs begin to rise to the surface.
What other corruption scandals have we witnessed recently? The metropolitan Tel Aviv public transportation network has been trying to get off the ground for 17 years now (the Tel Aviv “metro” cornerstone was put in place back in 1997). In comparison, the Barcelona municipality constructed a completely new five-line light trail rail within five years.
Purchasing a car or apartment in Israel has become increasingly expensive, while ministers and Knesset members’ salaries keep rising.
Billions of shekels are allocated from the state to religious organizations, unrecognized yeshivot, ultra-Orthodox fronts, illegal settlements and private companies owned by union leaders.
Despite increasing medical insurance costs, Israeli health funds are on the verge of collapse due to huge deficits that the state covers year after year. A tiny number of insatiable workers’ union leaders are running the country. They are the ones who are determining which leaders are elected.
In a survey conducted two years ago by the Israel branch of Transparency International (TI), over 73 percent of Israelis believe that Israeli government officials are corrupt.
The most corrupt Israeli organizations are the political parties and the Israeli rabbinate, according to the survey. The only country that reported a higher level of corruption was Greece (83%).
Most Israelis believe that corruption in Israel has increased over the past two years. They believe that the government is not interested in fighting corruption and that they will not receive the assistance they rightfully deserve from the public sector unless they have personal connections or offer a bribe.
According to the TI survey, 12% of Israeli citizens paid a bribe last year. A study carried out by the Bertelsmann Foundation and Jacobs University in Germany claims that social cohesion in Israel is among the lowest in the world, and that the main reasons for this are racism, lack of trust in government and political institutions and the perception that fairness in the legal system is low. Israel was placed at 28 out of 34 countries.
The existence of such widespread corruption is due to the fact that the vast majority of the people who run government organizations are not necessarily qualified for their positions, but just happened to have a political or social affiliation with a government minister.
The Government Companies Authority recently took steps to alter the image of the process of director appointments, but nothing has actually changed. Unfortunately, it is my opinion that this has been nothing but a successful public relations campaign.
Corruption in the government is still an enormous problem. All the major political parties employ “vote contractors” who sell votes for money. Large labor unions still make deals with politicians and sell their souls to the highest bidders. Even politicians who identify themselves with the “new age of politics” are entrenched in the old system and are finding it hard to trudge through all the muck.
Let us hope that the bribery conviction against former prime minister Ehud Olmert will set new standards for ethics and conduct in Israel.
But it’s hard to remain optimistic.
The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Translated by Hannah Hochner.