Connect to share and comment

Israel: less corrupt than Somalia

Seems even those holding the keys to the Holy Land need reminding that thou shall not steal.

Then Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, left, listens to Tzahi Hanegbi, during a meeting in Jerusalem, June 26, 2006. The attorney general's decision this week to drop a corruption investigation of Olmert over alleged political appointments was seen as a lifeline for Hanegbi, a former minister being tried on similar charges.

JERUSALEM — In its international survey of corruption, Transparency International (TI) ranks Israel a respectable number 33 out of 180 countries.

Pity the poor people of Somalia (rank: 180), because the graft stinks bad enough here, 147 places higher on the list.

Israel occupies its position on the TI scale between those other paragons of good government, Dominica and the United Arab Emirates, despite having its last prime minister under investigation for several corruption offenses, its former finance minister on his way to jail for dipping into union funds and its current foreign minister fighting an investigation into his business dealings.

The root of the corruption is cronyism in the political system. This week, the attorney general dropped an investigation of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who had allegedly made 260 political appointments against civil service rules. That was seen as a lifeline for one of his former ministers, Tzahi Hanegbi, who’s on trial for a mere 80 shady appointments.

But corruption isn't the biggest problem for Israel (which is why 33rd place in the TI survey is deceptively high). Rather it’s the refusal of Israeli politicians to acknowledge their wrongdoing that sets a tone for the entire society. Thanks to the men in its Knesset, Israelis are a nation of blame throwers.

Take former Health Minister Shlomo Benizri, who’ll be jailed for four years for bribe-taking, fraud, breach of trust and conspiracy as soon as the Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur holidays are over. (He plans to be with his family for those.) Benizri is a powerful force in the Shas Party, which represents religious Jews with origins in Arab countries who’re known as Sephardi. Last week he denounced his sentence as racist.

His party chief Eli Yishai, who is also interior minister, this week called for his pal to be pardoned by President Shimon Peres, before he even begins his sentence. Yishai went on a national radio talkshow to say that “there’s no one who doesn’t tell me on the street that [Benizri’s conviction] is because he’s Sephardi and religious.”

Shas has long played the ethnic card. Yishai is facing an imminent challenge to his leadership from Aryeh Deri, a former minister who was jailed for bribe-taking in 1999. Deri will shortly have completed the cooling-off period for politicians convicted of crimes “of moral turpitude,” after which they may once again run for positions of power.