Corruption not a new phenomenon in Israeli politics

It is becoming increasingly difficult to find an honest politician.

Avigdor Liberman (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Avigdor Liberman
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Corruption has become so commonplace in Israel that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find an honest politician.
Last Friday on his Channel 1 nostalgia program The Way It Was, Yigal Ravid, who usually has veteran entertainers or journalists as his guests with emphasis on their past careers, this time brought on journalist and legal affairs commentator Moshe Negbi – who began his career with the Israel Broadcasting Authority in 1969.
Although there were a few episodes from Negbi’s background, the crux of the program was corruption in national and local politics, and many examples of former ministers, MKs, mayors and even two prime ministers, who were investigated and in most cases convicted, were brought to the fore.
Among those mentioned was the late Avraham Ofer, who when he was housing minister around 40 years ago was investigated by police on suspicion of embezzlement.
The allegations against him were never substantiated, but then-attorney-general Aharon Barak did not give him a clean bill, deciding to continue with the investigation.
The upshot was that although Ofer was never charged, he was so upset by the blot on his reputation that he committed suicide.
He was ashamed, said Negbi, something that regrettably one doesn’t see today among politicians who are being investigated or have been charged with corruption.
The second part of the program on corruption will be aired this evening on Channel 1. Shabbat observers can watch it at their convenience on the IBA website.
■ ONE OF the unpleasant and uncouth aspects of election campaigns is the extent to which rival politicians badmouth each other. Criticism is of course valid, but not when people competing for votes denigrate each other and sometimes tell lies about one other.
It would be wonderful if instead of constantly listing the failings of their rivals, they would talk more of their own principles and policies regarding national security, social justice, relations with the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world, the sharing of the national burden and other issues which would help their party members decide who will get their votes in the primaries, and which party will get anyone’s vote in the national elections.
Speaking to members of the National Union of Israeli Students at a conference on democracy at the College of Management – Academic Studies, Labor leader Isaac Herzog said: “If [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu was a student here, he would fail.” Herzog then held up a so-called report card for Netanyahu, in which the prime minister consistently failed in management of the state’s economy, defense of residents of the Gaza Strip, chances for young couples to purchase apartments and dealing with the cost of living. But where he did score “excellent” was in making excuses.
■ POPULAR SINGER, actor, television host and radio commentator Yehoram Gaon celebrated his 75th birthday on December 28. President Reuven Rivlin celebrated his 75th birthday on September 9. Both were born in Jerusalem. Both went to the same school. Both were in the same youth groups. Both served on the Jerusalem City Council. Although each is more or less secular, both are familiar with the Bible and siddur, and can easily lead a synagogue service.
Rivlin invited Gaon and his family to visit the President’s Residence this week, and the two 75-year-olds had many shared memories to revive. Rivlin, who is one of Gaon’s admirers, said to him: “To get to the position of president I had to be elected, but you, Yehoram, are the ‘president of song’ for the whole nation.”
■ JERUSALEM RESIDENT Dorraine Gilbert Weiss was in a bakery on Wednesday morning adding to her emergency food supply, when she noticed she was standing behind Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky. Summoning her courage, she told him that just that week, she had cited from his work in a class she was teaching on the Book of Psalms. She explained that she had told her students the inspiring story of how Sharansky had kept a tiny book of Psalms with him at all times, even when he had to struggle with the Soviet authorities to get it back.
At that point, Sharansky smiled, reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a tiny, tattered book of Psalms. Gilbert Weiss was stunned, and asked whether he carried it wherever he went. Without pause, Sharansky replied: “Actually, it carries me.”
■ THERE WAS a time when Israel’s movie theaters were being closed down and converted into nightclubs, bars, restaurants and shops. But now, for some strange reason, when movies are easily accessible on the Internet, cinemas have regained their popularity – with multiplex movie theaters sprouting up all over the country.
The most recent of these establishments is the Globus Max, which opened this week at the Ofer Mall in Petah Tikva. Invitees received a red carpet welcome from the mall’s CEO Nir Barkan, and were particularly delighted to see Liora Ofer, the owner of Melisron and Ofer Malls who came with an entourage of Melisron executives, headed by Melisron CEO Avi Levy; and Ofer Malls CEO Moshe Rosenblum along with Avital Refaeli, marketing manager for the Ofer Malls group.
Also present was Petah Tikva Mayor Itzik Braverman, who publicly acknowledged that he was getting credit for the establishment of the movie house – when the credit actually belongs to the Ofer Group. Many of the city’s residents had thanked him personally, he said.
Liora Ofer said the real credit belongs to entrepreneur Bennet Kaplan, a native New Yorker who is the proprietor of the cinema.
She described Kaplan as a man with a passion and a dream, and was glad her company could share in that dream and help make it a reality.
Kaplan said he could identify with what Ofer said about him, because a lot of his friends think he’s crazy. A little over 10 years ago, he established the Israel Wax Museum in the lobby of the Imax 3D complex in Eilat, simply because he thought the lobby needed to be enhanced.
Others present included hotelier David Fattal; Israel’s queen of advertising Yafit Greenberg, better known as Gimmel Yafit; and actress Limor Goldstein. Of course, it goes without saying that the opening included the screening of a movie and the distribution of popcorn.
■ AT A screening of Dancing Arabs at the Peres Center for Peace in Jaffa, actress and model Yael Abecassis shared her popcorn with former president Shimon Peres, who had invited Peres Center employees along with the cast and production crew of the film – which last year opened the annual Jerusalem Film Festival – to a special screening. This was due to the message the film conveys: Namely that despite their differences and various obstacles, Jews and Arabs can live together in friendship and harmony.
Following the screening, Peres told the cast they had presented the unvarnished truth, and had given him the feeling there is hope for people to live together in mutual respect and with equal rights, regardless of their backgrounds.
■ ASIDE FROM the personal achievement, the naming of Dr. Sarah Abu Kaf to the Women in Science Hall of Fame 2014, by the US Embassy Amman’s Environment, Science, Technology and Health Office for the Middle East and North Africa, is a coup for Israel’s Beduin community as well as for Ben-Gurion University of the Negev – where Abu Kaf is part of the conflict management and resolution program. This is not the only recent honor she has received; Abu Kaf was also appointed to the 18-member public committee overseeing the expansion of the health services basket for 2015.
Married and the mother of six, Abu Kaf lives in the Beduin village of Umm Batin, where she was born. She was previously the recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship for post-doctoral work at Harvard University.
Her husband, Jazi, who has degrees in physics and architecture and who encourages her to continue with her academic studies, accompanied her and their children to the US.
Abu Kaf and her sister are the only two women in their village with doctoral degrees; she is one of 11 women who were selected to be included in the 2014 list of Women in Science Hall of Fame. The initiative honoring outstanding women throughout the region working in different scientific disciplines dates from 2010. The intention is for them to serve as role models for women and girls pursing education and careers in various fields of science.
■ ANYTHING RELATED to Auschwitz is painful even for those who did not spend time there, and did not lose relatives or friends there; the word itself has become a symbol for atrocities and horror. And yet, for those who survived Auschwitz and were liberated, a return to that section of hell on earth is a form of bittersweet revenge.
A poignant example is the late Warsaw- born Shmuel Gogol, who had been given a harmonica by physician, writer and educator Janusz Korczak. Gogol was a very good harmonica exponent; it saved his life in Auschwitz where he was forced to join the Auschwitz Orchestra.
In 1993, Gogol was part of the entourage of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who went to Poland for the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. A prime minister of Israel could not go to Poland without including Auschwitz, Majdanek or Treblinka on his itinerary; Rabin went to Auschwitz and Gogol went with him, to play the harmonica there once more. This time it was different – he played “Hatikva.” He died soon after his return to Israel, but had achieved what had once been impossible.
The numbers of Auschwitz survivors are dwindling, and this year will be the last major commemoration for those who are left. More than 100 of them from at least 17 countries will travel to Poland for the 70th anniversary of their liberation, the date of which – January 27 – has been permanently placed on the universal calendar as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The official event, under the patronage of Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, has been organized by the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and the International Auschwitz Council, with supporting organizations including the World Jewish Congress, USC Shoah Foundation and Institute for Visual History and Education.
“Few moments in the drama that was World War II are more etched in our collective memory then the day Red Army troops came upon perhaps the greatest evil of our time,” said WJC president Ronald Lauder, who 20 years ago – together with Kalman Sultanik and Ernie Michel – raised $40 million from 19 countries to ensure the preservation of Auschwitz-Birkenau as a permanent memorial, and a reminder of man’s inhumanity to man.
Dr. Piotr M.A. Cywinski, director of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, regrets this will be the last major anniversary to be commemorated with a significant group of survivors. “Until now, it was they who taught us how to look at the tragedy of the victims of the Third Reich and the total destruction of the world of European Jews.
Their voices became the most important warning against the human capacity for extreme humiliation, contempt and genocide,” he said.
“On this special day, we want to show the survivors and the whole world that we, the post-war generation, have matured to take our own responsibility for remembrance,” declared Marek Zajac, secretary of the International Auschwitz Council – a somewhat naïve remark given the upsurge of anti-Semitism in Europe.
“Faced as we are with the loss of living witnesses,” said Stephen Smith, USC Shoah Foundation executive director, “it is imperative we honor them and take their stories with us into the future, so those who come after us will have no excuse to let such atrocities happen again. Survivors speak not only for themselves, but for the millions whose voices were violently silenced.”
In other events related to the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and International Holocaust Remembrance Day, President Rivlin will address the UN in New York at the invitation of UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, who personally issued the invitation during his visit to Israel last October.
The Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra will also perform at UNESCO’s Paris headquarters under the baton of JSO music director Frederic Chaslin, a second-generation Holocaust survivor. The central work in the performance will be Dmitri Shostakovich Babi Yar, with a reading from the poem of the same name penned by renowned Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko. Also on the program is Suite Yiddish, composed by Holocaust survivor Norbert Glanzberg, who was a friend and musical partner of Edith Piaf during the German occupation.
Piaf managed to smuggle him to Nice on the French Riviera in the unoccupied zone, where Glanzberg eventually survived.
The concert will open with the world premiere of Chaslin’s composition, Ode to Peace.
■ THE HOLIER than thou elements of the Israeli public reluctant to give lawbreakers and down-and-outers a second chance would do well to emulate Yigal Dimri, chairman of ILAN’s March of Dimes. ILAN is the Israeli Foundation for Handicapped Children; it held its annual launch of activities for the new year at the President’s Residence, where Dimri was one of the speakers.
Dimri owns one of Israel’s largest construction companies, in which he employs people with disabilities – in keeping with ILAN’s campaign to have employers all over the country look at the capacities of such people, rather than their incapacities.
But it’s not only people with disabilities who get a chance to prove themselves at YH Dimri Construction and Development Ltd. in Netivot. Dimri and his wife are often approached for monetary contributions to one cause or another, and sometimes just for a handout.
Dimri related that his wife had been approached by a drug addict who hadn’t eaten in a while and wanted money for food. She asked him why he didn’t try to kick the habit and get a job. “Who would employ me?” he replied. “We will,” she responded without hesitation, adding that she expected him to try to rehabilitate himself.
The bottom line is that he’s been with the company for 10 years. He’s clean of drugs, and is married with a child. Said Dimri, “He’s one of the best workers we have.”
■ ONE OF the candidates expected to score big in next week’s Labor primary is Stav Shaffir, 29, who at the time of her election to the outgoing Knesset was the youngest female MK in the nation’s history.
Relentless in her quest for social justice and alert to legally problematic funding, Shaffir has raised more campaign money from more people than any other Labor candidate.
Calcalist, the financial supplement of Yediot Aharonot, reported Wednesday that Shaffir had raised NIS 195,683 from 1,111 donors – a different kind of march of dimes, if you will. Shelly Yacimovich was in second place with NIS 155,269 from 541 donors, and Nachman Shai in third with NIS 140,800 from 47 donors. Erel Margalit, a wealthy businessman before embarking on a political career, was fourth with NIS 140,170 from five donors, including himself; his personal donation to his campaign was NIS 100,000.
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