(photo credit: REUTERS)
Political corruption suspicions abound. Many involve members of Yisrael Beytenu or people close to it and to the Likud. It is important to remember that at this stage, police are still investigating, and no one has been convicted. Nevertheless, the situation looks grim and raises questions about the motivations of some of our politicians.
Are they in politics to serve the public or further their own interests? Taxpayer money may have been used to secure a municipal job as deputy mayor for a Yisrael Beytenu party functionary in Kiryat Shmona. The job was obtained after Yisrael Beytenu transferred several million shekels to keep afloat a cash-strapped hospital emergency room there. The emergency room has since ceased to function due to a lack of funds.
Taxpayer money may have been used also to pay a hefty NIS 96,000 “fee” to the wife of another Yisrael Beytenu functionary in exchange for fund-raising services that included a donation of NIS 1m. to the Israel Basketball Association.
Taxpayer money may have also been used to pay for an apartment in Ramat Gan for the daughter of yet another Yisrael Beytenu functionary.
These are just three of about 15 incidents of supposed graft and corruption in which 30 or so public figures, directors of nonprofit organizations, lobbyists, and mayors of cities or towns are thought to be embroiled. Many of these people are connected directly or indirectly to Yisrael Beytenu or to Likud. Deputy Interior Minister Faina Kirschenbaum (Yisrael Beytenu) is one of the major suspects in this alleged corruption scheme that purportedly included bribery, cronyism and fraud.
Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman – who is not suspected of being connected to the corruption – went on the offensive, questioning the timing and motivation of the investigation smack in the middle of election season.
“Only those who are lazy won’t bother to think how it is that during every election without exception, shadowy forces try to infringe on the right of Yisrael Beytenu to fairly stand for election,” Liberman wrote on his Facebook page.
“As far as our party is concerned, no elections go by without an investigation.”
Liberman is rightly bitter and skeptical about police’s motives. For the better part of 17 years he has been the focus of corruption investigations. The most recent indictment against Liberman was filed in December 2012, just six weeks before the last elections. Nothing came of any of these police investigations. In November of last year he was acquitted of the last set of charges. Liberman’s own experience with the police is decidedly negative, and many of Yisrael Beytenu’s voters are convinced that Liberman was the object of a politically motivated vendetta.
Some legal experts claim it is unfair to conduct high-profile investigations of politicians during election season.
Ahead of the January 2003 elections, when police and the state prosecutor were investigating prime minister Ariel Sharon’s relations with South African businessman Cyril Kern, then-attorney-general Elyakim Rubinstein ordered that findings be kept secret until after elections were over so as not to influence results. Only a leak from inside the State Prosecutor’s Office made the investigation public knowledge.
And ahead of the last municipal elections, Supreme Court justices criticized police and the State Attorney’s Office for allowing ongoing investigations to come to fruition precisely as voters prepared to place their votes.
But we would argue that both Rubinstein and the Supreme Court were wrong to attempt to muzzle the police and the state prosecutor.
Similarly, while we are still at a relatively early stage in this purported corruption case, it seems police and the state prosecutor have enough evidence to justify going public.
Also, the corruption allegations involve a large number of people, many of whom are connected with Yisrael Beytenu.
The Israeli public has a right to know about all this, while keeping in mind that at this stage these are all suspicions, not indictments.
Of course, the police and the state prosecutor are also taking a risk. If it turns out that all these allegations – or many of them – fail to lead to indictments and convictions, the police and the state prosecutor will suffer yet another blow to their credibility.