(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
It’s official. The fox has been given back the keys to the hen house where he feasted previously, before he was caught and sent to the coop with bars on the windows.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apparently had no qualms about handing the Interior Ministry back to Arye Deri, a convicted felon who went to prison for bribery and corruption the last time he held that job.
Netanyahu apparently does not share the view of many Israelis who feel someone whose abuse of power in a high government position sent him to jail once has lost any right to hold another position of public trust.
That someone who was convicted of bribery and corruption is back running the same ministry where he was caught with his hand in the till is testimony to the low ethical standard set by the prime minister, who himself is no stranger to scandal.
Deri heads Shas, the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi party, which has a reputation for corruption and extortion, selling its votes to the highest bidder in exchange for its financial, religious and other rewards.
This isn’t the first time Netanyahu tried to buy Shas’ loyalty. In 1997, when Deri was on trial for the crimes that sent him to jail, he pressed Netanyahu to name an attorney general who would cut a deal to keep the former interior minister out of jail, police charged.
Netanyahu agreed to the appointment of a singularly unqualified candidate, but when news of the deal broke the new AG was forced to quit after one day in office. The police recommended indicting Netanyahu for influence peddling but the next attorney general declined to prosecute.
That time Netanyahu needed Shas’ votes on a Hebron redeployment agreement. Today, with only a single-seat margin in Knesset, Netanyahu needs every vote he can get to keep his far-right coalition from disintegrating; Shas holds seven of the 61 seats.
Two years later Netanyahu faced another scandal when Israeli police recommended he be tried for corruption for $100,000 in free services from a government contractor; again the AG decided not to indict.
Many of the Netanyahu scandals have involved his wife, Sara.
An Associated Press profile of the couple said Netanyahu is known as a “cigar-smoking, cognac-drinking socialite” and his wife for her “expensive tastes and alleged abusive behavior toward staff.”
She is currently under investigation by police for what may seem like a petty crime – pocketing bottle deposit refunds that belong to the state – but critics say “bottlegate” is symptomatic of an attitude of arrogance, entitlement and abuse of authority.
In an earlier term, both Netanyahus were under investigation for illegally keeping gifts, obstructing justice and taking kickbacks on work at their several homes, personal and official. Again, the attorney general decided after a seven-month fraud investigation that there was “insufficient evidence for a criminal trial.”
Last year the attorney general ordered a criminal investigation following a state comptroller report accusing the couple of “excessive spending” of public funds on food, wine, furniture and improvements at the prime minister’s official residence as well as his private luxury villa on the Mediterranean cost.
Several suits have been filed by former staff at the official residence accusing Mrs. Netanyahu of abusive conduct, racist remarks and angry attacks.
Deri got the Interior Ministry because his predecessor, Silvan Shalom, was forced to resign from politics last month in the face of numerous accusations of sexual harassment. Another coalition member, Yinon Magal of the Bayit Yehudi Party, who went around the country giving speeches on family values, also resigned for similar reasons.
Netanyahu had his own sex scandal, dubbed “Bibigate.” In 1993 he admitted on TV to having an extramarital affair with an aide while married to Sara, his third wife. His first wife had also accused him of infidelity.
Other investigations range from his expensive taste in ice cream to private individuals and organizations paying for his foreign travel to spending $127,000 to put a bedroom suite in an El Al jet for a five-hour flight to England.
None of these scandals did enough damage to keep Netanyahu from winning a fourth term last spring and reports out of Jerusalem say he is thinking of calling another early election – for a record fifth term – to solidify his hold and expand his single-seat margin in Knesset.
Netanyahu needs every seat he can get, and price is apparently no object, especially when it comes out of the public’s pocket and not his own. Deri’s return to the scene of his crimes – even if he got the attorney general’s and the court’s hechsher – speaks volumes about the ethical standard this prime minister has set for his government.
At a time when American Jews seem to be distancing themselves from the Jewish state, this government’s emerging image of kleptocracy will only make matters worse; the Deri appointment is just one more piece of evidence bolstering that reputation.