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Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.(Photo by: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
State corruption
Corruption has sadly plagued the country for years.
The police recommended indicting Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman this week, which brings the number of elected officials facing possible indictments to five. This is a disturbing number and the shrug with which many in the public appear to greet this news does not augur well for upcoming elections. Elections are a measure of the public’s will and send a message. It is important that leaders indicate that corruption is not the way of the state. Elected officials are meant to serve as a role model to the public and when five of them are facing jail time, that is not the case.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the center of several cases, including those that Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit has already indicated an intention to charge him of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. These include Case 4000, the Bezeq-Walla scandal; Case 1000, involving illegal gifts; and Case 2000 that relates to the media.

Interior Minister Arye Deri is also suspected of tax offenses and money laundering. Mandelblit is expected to charge Labor and Social Services Minister Haim Katz with fraud, and in March, police also recommended charging Likud MK David Bitan. He is accused of money laundering, bribery and other offenses.

As if that wasn’t enough, it appears that Jerusalem also has a problem with corruption at the municipal level. Investigators found that a senior official has been giving out favors for years. The official was involved in the demolition of a building to build new apartments, a property that his wife had owned. Three suspects have been arrested.

All of this is just the tip of an iceberg that has been melting for years. Faina Kirschenbaum, once a deputy minister from Yisrael Beytenu, is standing trial. There are also mayors across the country who have been charged and convicted. There are so many cases against so many officials that it is hard to keep track of them. This may be one reason that the public has become inured to these stories.

Corruption has sadly plagued the country for years. In 2005, Israel was ranked 28th in the world according to Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index. It was 34th last year.

Israelis tend to shrug off the corruption allegations when it comes to high-ranking officials because they value security and other issues more. For instance, Netanyahu regularly scores high on defense and foreign policy issues, but only around 23% of Israelis give him high marks for integrity, according to a recent survey.

Another issue that Israel faces when it comes to corruption among its political leaders is not just that people think alleged corruption is less important than defending the country, it is that many sectarian and religious parties tend to have sectoral support that doesn’t believe their local leaders are actually corrupt. That means that many of the sectarian parties, whether the ultra-Orthodox or some Arab parties, have voters who believe their leaders are being persecuted and that “corruption” is just the word that elites or the authorities use to try to tarnish their leaders’ reputations.

There is little evidence that voters for Litzman or Deri feel that allegations lodged against them are true, or that their leader’s image should be tarnished. This reflects a larger failure of public trust in institutions. The public tends to trust the army, but has less faith in the police. That may be unsurprising since even within the police force there have been scandals, including sexual harassment. It was revealed that during a recent television show, ostensibly documenting daily police work in Jerusalem, a gun was planted to make it seem more interesting.

Trust in institutions and government is essential for a functioning and successful society. Corrupt societies tend to have worse infrastructure and corruption corrodes the system beyond just the power structure, it seeps down into everyday life. We can see the result of corruption around us, whether electrical failures in Iraq, a country rich in oil, or infrastructure decay in Egypt.

Unless it is stopped, corruption seeps throughout society. If Israel wants to remain a hi-tech success story and continue to have the kind of military systems that make it the most powerful country in the region, it must reduce corruption.
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