Electionscape: Pointing fingers

Corruption charges drive campaigning.

By
February 14, 2006 07:26
3 minute read.
elections06.article.298

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A year and a half ago, then finance minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke at the Liberal Club in Tel-Aviv. He acknowledged the only serving MK in the audience who was originally a member of the late Liberal Party. "Naomi Blumenthal, represents our ideals, you can keep your head high," he said. Blumenthal was already mired deep in her corruption and fraud case, but Netanyahu was actually aiming a jibe at his rival Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who had fired her from the post of deputy minister for keeping silent in the police interrogation. Now Netanyahu is Likud leader himself, and yesterday's court verdict against Blumenthal is his problem. Some of his advisers thought that the Likud should be running an anti-corruption campaign highlighting the investigations against some of Kadima's leading lights, but Netanyahu wisely acknowledged he was sitting in a glass house. Today's verdict in Omri Sharon's case should have been a bonanza for the Likud and Labor campaign, but the timing is lousy. Omri is accused of fraud in the financing of his father's primaries campaign in 1999, but that father is the super-popular prime minister now lying in critical condition in Jerusalem's Hadassah-University Hospital, so the political fallout will probably be muted. That doesn't mean that corruption and sleaze has totally become a non-issue in these elections. Shas, for example, demoted two serving MKs, Shlomo Benizri and Yair Peretz, who are up to their noses in court cases. Benizri will be only on the sixth spot and Peretz was relegated to an unrealistic place. Another politician, who will remain nameless, has been kicked out of his party's list for a sex-scandal. But so far, only Labor has tried to make electoral mileage out of the myriad investigations and allegations that characterized the outgoing Knesset and are trying in their propaganda to paint Kadima and Likud as corrupt. The party was lucky enough that their Druze members voted former MK and minister Salah Tarif, who was convicted only a couple of months for accepting bribes, off the list, so at least their current team is clean of investigations. Still, they're taking a big risk. The campaign might well boomerang. Teams of investigators are collecting dirt on the way Amir Peretz signed up new members and used the Histadrut trade union organization to pack Labor with enough followers to enable him to win the leadership. Peretz is hoping that none of these investigations - by the police, the media and rival parties - will bear fruit by the elections, but anyway, it doesn't seem that the public right now is interested either way. A week into Labor's anti-corruption campaign and the party isn't making any headway in the polls. Actually it's heading downwards. That leaves Ehud Olmert. Likud insiders are claiming now that at least two big newspapers are sitting on damning reports against the acting prime minister and not publishing them for fear of ruining his electoral success. Though the Likud's complaints about the pro-Kadima press have some degree of justification, to the best of my knowledge, the media are currently holding their fire for more prosaic reasons. Besides the old stuff on him, it's almost impossible substantiate anything new. That's what's holding them up. Olmert has been seriously investigated twice. In 1997, he went on trial for accepting illegal donations in the 1980s, while serving as Likud treasurer. He was cleared of the charges. He was also one of the suspects in the "Greek Island" case, but that never made it to court. Now everyone is trying to find something new and, of course, there is no shortage of rumors. But even if there's any truth in them, Olmert is much too clever to be caught easily. anshel@ejemm.com

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