Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu is a corrupt leader. But his corruption cannot be seen in isolation from deeply engrained corruption that has afflicted Israeli society as a whole.
At the heart of that corruption is the Israeli occupation of Palestine - an illegal and immoral act that has benefited every living Israeli just as their ancestors have benefited from the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948.
Tens of thousands of Israelis have protested the corruption of Netanyahu and his business and government clique every Saturday for the last few weeks, uninterrupted. The center of these protests moved from Petah Tikva to Tel Aviv, signaling the growing momentum of the Israeli public outrage.
“The people want legal justice,” read one of thousands of placards carried throughout the marches, which have now been recorded in 15 cities.Even the Israeli Right is joining the protest demanding ‘justice’ and accountability. The growing anti-Netanyahu sentiment is no longer a matter of politics championed by the so-called Israeli Left alone.
Yet somehow, it escapes many of these Israelis that they are all investors, sustainers and beneficiaries of the mother of all 'illegal injustices' where four million Palestinians are besieged, mistreated, militarily occupied and subjugated behind checkpoints and massive walls.
The Israelis pride themselves on their brand of “democracy”, one fueled by media propaganda purely to drum up support for Israel’s illegal practices.
Most intriguing about Netanyahu’s corruption is that it is not a reflection of him alone: this is layered corruption, involving a large network of Israel’s upper ranksRamzy Baroud
However, the spin-off of this propaganda campaign is that democracy also means that Israelis are collectively accountable and culpable for the injustices meted out to occupied Palestinians every hour of every day.
It is the sons and daughters of these Israelis that operate the checkpoints, besiege cities, shoot at protesters and enforce every act of military occupation and war, egged on by their elders. It is their money that maintains the illegal Jewish settlements, and their representatives at the Knesset that crafts the racist laws that further the suppression, isolation and humiliation of Palestinians.
Yet, thanks to the Western media gatekeepers, the mere mention of “corruption” in relation to Israel is frowned upon regardless of the context of that criticism. Only when Israel’s ranking in the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) plummeted in recent years, coupled with the dwindling perception of many Israelis of their own leaders, did the media begin taking notice.
And as Netanyahu was reeling against Palestinians, bragging on every platform of the supposed moral ascendency of his country, Israeli police was “visiting” his home, seeking interviews and evidence that could implicate him, even indict him in several major corruption scandals, some of which involve his wife, cousins, and other top aides.
Only recently, a leaked recording aired by Israel’s Channel 2 seem to implicate his son, Yair as well. Most telling is that the Israeli public is so accustomed to the idea of a corrupt political system that as a whole, they no longer shape their political views and allegiances according to this reality.
In this regard, whether the string of scandals now hounding Netanyahu lead to his sacking or not, matters little. Despite the fact that nearly half of Israelis that were polled last July believe that Netanyahu is corrupt, majority of them said they would still vote for him anyway.
A more recent survey conducted by Channel 10 TV concluded that if general elections are held today, Netanyahu will garner 28 percent while his closest contenders, Avi Gabbay of the Zionist Camp, and Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, will each gather 11 percent of the vote.
“The next stage, which is drawing near, is for the citizens of Israel to re-elect a criminal as their leader and entrust their fate to him,” Israeli columnist, Akiva Eldar wrote in response to Netanyahu’s continued popularity, despite accusations of corruption and repeated police investigations.
But if Eldar looks closely and honestly at that statement, and juxtaposes it with reality, he would discover that Israelis have, in fact, re-elected many criminals as their leaders.
Alex Roy puts it more succinctly in a recent piece in the Times of Israel: “The fact that (Netanyahu) still has a good chance of being the prime minister after these coming elections says more about how used to corruption we have become than how clean he is.”
Indeed, corruption in Israel is becoming more like mafia operations, roping in elected civil servants, military top brass, high-ranking lawyers and large conglomerates.
The nature of the investigations that are closing in on Netanyahu points to this very fact as he is embroiled in ‘File 1000’ - the prime minister and his wife accepted gifts of large financial value from a renowned Hollywood producer, Arnon Milchan, in exchange for favors that, if confirmed, required Netanyahu to use his political influence as the prime minister.
A secret deal
‘File 2000’ is the “Yisrael Hayom” affair. In this case, Netanyahu reached a secret deal with the publisher of the leading Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, Arnon Mozes. According to the deal, Yedioth agreed to cut down on its criticism of Netanyahu’s policies in exchange for the latter's promise to decrease the sale of a rival newspaper, Yisrael Hayom.
‘Yisrael Hayom’ is owned by pro-Israeli American business tycoon, Sheldon Adelson, Netanyahu's close and powerful ally until the news of the Yedioth deal surfaced. Since then, ‘Yisrael Hayom’ turned against Netanyahu.
‘File 3000’ is the German submarines affair. Top national security advisors, all very closely aligned to Netanyahu, were involved in the purchase of German submarines that were deemed unnecessary, yet cost the government billions of dollars. Large sums of this money were allegedly syphoned by Netanyahu's inner circle and transferred to secret, private bank accounts.
This case, in particular, is significant regarding the widespread corruption in Israel's upper echelons. There is also the “Berzeq affair” involving Israeli telecommunication giant, Berzeq, and Netanyahu's political ally and friend, Shlomo Filber.
Netanyahu was the Minister of Communications until he was ordered by the court to step down in 2016. According to media reports, his handpicked replacement, Filber, served the role of 'spy' for the telecommunications powerhouse to ensure that critical decisions made by the government are communicated in advance to the company.
And so on...Most intriguing about Netanyahu’s corruption is that it is not a reflection of him alone: this is layered corruption, involving a large network of Israel’s upper ranks.
Corruption in Israeli society has become particularly endemic after the occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. The idea that ordinary Israelis can move into a Palestinian house, evict the family and claim the house as their own, with the full support of the military, government and court, exemplifies moral corruption in the highest degree.
But how different really was that when compared to the very birth of Israel on the ruins of Palestine in 1948? That was the genesis of Israel’s corruption racket.
Protesting and blaming Netanyahu for Israel’s corruption deflect from the much larger and ingrained collective act of corruption carried out by Israeli society for decades.
If Israelis wish to truly uproot corruption, they should start with uprooting the systematic racist and violent occupation that has wrought untold pain and suffering on the Palestinian people.
Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His forthcoming book is ‘The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story’ (Pluto Press, London). Baroud has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, University of California Santa Barbara. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.