(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Just as our lawmakers were preparing to end the Knesset‘s winter session and begin a prolonged Passover recess, the political scene was rocked by two allegations of corruption.
First, it was revealed that Shas chairman Arye Deri has been the subject of an investigation that reportedly has to do with properties owned by the Deri family. The Deris own property in Moshav Safsufa in the Galilee. The precise details of the investigation are under a gag order.
Then it emerged that Zionist Union head Isaac Herzog was being probed for alleged campaign fund-raising violations connected to his party’s 2013 leadership primary. Police are looking into suspicions Herzog received financial contributions in an unlawful way.
Both of the cases have been under investigations for the past few months. But both are at relatively early stages. Neither of the politicians has been questioned under caution.
Political paralysis will be the most immediate result of the revelations about alleged corruption, as The Jerusalem Post’s Political Correspondent Gil Hoffman pointed out. The narrow government coalition of just 61 MKs out of 120 already had difficulty making decisions on anything from fiscal matters to issues of religion and state. Just this week Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon predicted during a conference closed to the public that unless the coalition was expanded, it would be unable to function properly into its second year.
But now that Herzog is entwined in a corruption investigation, the chances that the Zionist Union will join the coalition are practically nil. The government will remain narrow and weak and susceptible to political pressures from all members of the coalition.
Adding to the political limbo is the uncertainty surrounding Deri’s appointment as interior minister.
Before news of the investigation against Deri was publicized, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was waiting for the High Court of Justice to respond to the Movement for Quality Government’s petition to disqualify Deri as interior minister. The NGO argued that it was improper to appoint Deri to the position seeing as how he was convicted of taking $155,000 in bribes while serving as interior minister in the 1990s.
Now the Movement for Quality Government has asked the High Court to include the new allegations in its deliberations regarding Deri. This will likely delay a decision for an indefinite time. And as long as Deri’s status is unclear, the appointment of Likud MKs to other cabinet portfolios will be delayed.
It is therefore imperative that the investigation be conducted as speedily as possible. Every day of delay perpetuates a state of political limbo. Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit has proven early on in his stint that he will not be intimidated. His appointment was criticized because of his close ties with the prime minister. But Mandelblit has shown a willingness to be tough when necessary. He reportedly has forbidden the prime minister to continue to hold the Communication portfolio due to his connections with Shaul Elovitch who has a controlling interest in Bezeq, though sources in the Communication Ministry deny this.
Now Mandelblit has to push for a speedy investigation that minimizes the damage to the nation resulting from an extended political paralysis. Deri’s stated readiness to cooperate with the investigation is a good sign if it is sincere. Similarly, Herzog has said he will cooperate with his investigators.
While the political futures of Deri and Herzog are at stake, the political health of the nation is infinitely more important.
The Knesset begins its extended Passover recess.
During this time no legislation will be passed and no significant political decisions will be made. But this needlessly long period of parliamentary inaction, which occurs every year at this time, must not be extended. We hope the police, Mandelblit, Herzog and Deri do everything in their power to make the political limbo imposed by the current graft investigations as brief as possible.