Conservative Corruption: Israeli Edition
by Jonathan Singer, Wed Nov 29, 2006 at 01:09:37 PM EST
Thought that corruption on the Right was limited to Americans like Tom DeLay, Bob Taft, Conrad Burns, Curt Weldon, Ernie Fletcher, Charles Taylor, Bob Ney, Jack Abramoff, Bill Frist, Tom Noe, Rick Santorum, David Safavian, John Doolittle, Ralph Reed, Richard Pombo, Jerry Lewis and Denny Hastert? Think again. According to Rebecca Anna Stoil of The Jerusalem Post, Israel's star of the Right, Bibi Netanyahu, is involved in an ethics investigation that could finally spell an end to his reactionary political career.
Opposition leader MK Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud) was questioned for hours by the National Fraud Squad Tuesday afternoon under suspicion of accepting gifts illegally, as his political rivals kept their eyes on the investigation of a man who sought to portray his party as the alternative to corrupt politics.
Tuesday's questioning was part of an ongoing National Fraud Squad investigation into Yisrael Katz, the former chairman of the Pedagogic Secretariat at the Education Ministry, who has been accused of using government funds to support his private research institute which he ran while he worked for the ministry.
For a number of months, detectives have been probing allegations that Katz committed both fraud and violation of trust in diverting Education Ministry funds to carrying out political opinion polls at the Institute for Education and Community Research at Bar Ilan University.
In this case, Netanyahu is suspected of receiving opinion polls conducted for him by Katz without compensating Katz for the service. Only after a Channel 10 report revealed in late 2005 that Netanyahu had been receiving the polling data, he paid the bill - tens of thousands of shekels - to Katz. It remains unclear if Netanyahu knew that the studies were allegedly financed through the government funds.
With Israel seemingly entering a new phase of engagement with the Palestinians, the center-right/center-left coalition headed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his Kadima Party is in a particularly tenuous situation. Opinion in the country after the conflict with Hizbollah is trending more hawkish rather than less, and a recently-released Angus-Reid poll indicates that a right wing Likud Party headed by Netanyahu (who has been toning up the rhetoric when it comes to Iran) would win a rather sizable mandate from voters, garnering an estimated 29 seats, followed by Kadima (center-right) at 18 seats, Yisrael Beiteinu (far right) at 14 seats, Labor (center-left) at 12 seats and Shas (ultra-orthodox Sephardic Jews) at 10 seats. In short, Israelis are significantly more conservative in their outlook today than perhaps they have ever been.
But a major corruption scandal focused on Likud, which has prided itself as the clean government alternative for Israelis, could seriously undermine the Party's abilities to triumph in any upcoming election -- particularly if it is their standard-bearer, Benjamin Netanyahu, who the focus of investigators.
Now corruption is not a new issue to Israelis. They have certainly seen their share of scandals before and have, in the past, been willing to overlook similar scandals as broader issues of security come to the fore. That said, if the Netanyahu probe continues and the deescalation proves to hold (with Israel not reentering Gaza and the Palestinians not continuing to fire rockets into Israel), thus helping to refocus the electorate on Kadima's agenda of bringing more stability through withdrawal from Palestinian territories, Olmert might be able to recapture his support among voters and stave off any challenge from the right.
Yes, there are a lot of "ifs" there. But things move very quickly in the region and Israeli voters are more than willing to change their alliances with the coming of new successes or failures. So while Netanyahu and the Israeli Right appear ascendent today, there is yet a very good chance that a coalition of the middle will be able to retain power in the coming months and years and at least try to move the situation between Israel and the Palestinians forward.