The events of recent weeks are not coincidental, nor did they happen at random.
The demonstrations in Petah Tikva, Jerusalem’s Zion Square and Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard, as well as the investigations of the prime minister and coalition chairman MK David Bitan, who recently resigned, are all the result of long-standing inappropriate behavior.
Over the years, many public officials have seen jail cells prepared specifically for them, including a president, a prime minister, ministers, MKs, mayors and senior law enforcement officials, and this phenomenon isn’t likely to disappear anytime soon.
The State of Israel is becoming very high up on the list of countries with the most corruption. In the 2014 World Corruption Index, Israel was 24th. A year later we fell to 32nd, but in 2016, we rose once again to 28th. In other words, after Greece, Israel is considered the most corrupt country in the West.
An International Transparency Organization survey last year found that 73% of Israelis believe their government bodies are corrupt and promote foreign interests. The most corrupt bodies, respondents said, are political parties and the Chief Rabbinate.
The only Western country where an even higher percentage of the population believed its government was corrupt was Greece, with 83%. Most Israelis believe corruption increased in the two years preceding the survey, that the government is not interested in fighting corruption, and that the only way to receive proper treatment from the public sector is through connections and bribery. But 12% admitted to engaging in an act of bribery with a governmental official. So the next time we mention banana republics or corruption in Central Africa, maybe we should take a good look in the mirror first.
The only reason this has become reality is because we let it happen. For decades, the public sector has been bloated, as are a number of government companies. Managers hire their friends and family members, or party functionaries who are close to one minister or another. Political parties are staffed mainly by those looking for easy jobs, and elected officials spend most of their time trying to figure out how to stay in power, rather than taking care of the public they were elected to help. For example, in January 2014, direct tax rates rose 2%, while salaries of elected officials continued to rise, such as MKs’ salaries rising 2%.
Then in January 2015, 2016 and 2017, they received additional raises. MKs’ salaries are 37.7% higher than the average salary of parliamentarians worldwide. And this is for only five months of work a year.
Meanwhile, the finance minister has only approved a NIS 31 increase in old-age pensions for a population that for the most part lives below the poverty line. It’s interesting to note that the Histadrut labor federation has chosen not to strike over this particular issue.
This situation has become the norm, and elected officials have no shame that they first and foremost take care of themselves and the people close to them – and only afterward work for the good of the people.
In this manner, many mayors have found themselves being seduced by large amounts of money offered to them by building contractors who want improvised building standards and access to lands that were previously not available due to zoning restrictions. Prime ministers have found themselves caught up in bribery cases. And even former navy officials are suspected as having stooped so low as to accept bribes in exchange for promoting unnecessary weapons deals.
In a properly functioning society, the government operates under full transparency.
In civilized countries, government bodies are supervised by fair directors who monitor operations. In civilized countries, critics who expose corruption are protected. In civilized countries, there is a strong police force and the government has legislative backing to carry out justice.
When the state doesn’t appoint professional and trustworthy boards that can supervise the operations of government companies, the results are disastrous. In recent years, salaries of government company employees have risen by tens of percentage points, while these same companies have accumulated huge losses. In 2012, total losses reached NIS 100 million, and in 2011, losses reached NIS 700m.
In comparison with other ports around the world, the efficiency of port workers here does not even reach 50%. In many other countries, efficiency rates reach 70% or even 80%. The government company given the responsibility to construct the light rail in the Dan region in 2008 is not expected to show many signs of progress in the upcoming decade. Israel Railways has shown losses in the millions over the years.
According to the State Comptroller’s Office, and investigative reporting, Israel Railways management has continuously hired unskilled employees with familial connections, who receive wage increases regardless of productivity and efficiency. Salaries at the Israel Electric Corporation rose 18% in just one year. At Haifa Port they rose 12%.
Billions of shekels of income from government companies that are supposed to reach state coffers instead find themselves being channeled into the pockets of individuals who run the country’s largest unions.
This money should have been used to pave streets and fund other public ventures.
National assets that belong to all of the citizens are being managed by a small group of people who maintain inordinate power and influence over policymakers. So, where are all the board members who were appointed to act as our country’s gatekeepers? Why have they kept silent? The Israel Police is too weak to offer much help, especially now that it’s under direct attack from the Prime Minister’s Office.
In these conditions, it has been practically impossible to carry out successful investigations.
The concepts of values and norms now refer to a fantasy world, and so we are forced to live in a world where corruption is running rampant.
The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security agency).Translated by Hannah Hochner.