Godfather Part I
Three corruption scandals have exploded over the past weeks, leaving their mark on Israeli politics and the ongoing election campaign.
The first scandal was exposed by Ma’ariv, Israel’s second biggest daily. This exposure may perhaps be explained by Ma’ariv’s intense rivalry with Yediot, the widest selling daily, since one of Likud’s major political figures, finance minister Silvan Shalom, is married to one of Yediot’s owners. His wife Judy holds 12% of the paper’s shares, while her relatives own most of the rest.
This was the bribery scandal in Likud’s Centre (the party’s body of several thousand electors picking the candidates for parliament), featuring people from organised crime groups (two or three of them) who made a big impact on these primaries.
The first press reports, as well as information coming from a sympathiser of our organisation working at the convention, made clear that the internal election campaign involved insane sums of money. In just one day candidates operated stalls giving out free hot dogs and beer, produced huge shows calling on voters to support them, as well as matchboxes, pens, shirts etc. One candidate, a businesswoman, had her sign hanging from giant construction crane. Another paid motor-propelled parachute flyers to fly over voters’ heads with signs bearing his name.
That day, the media started talking about this "carnival" or "festival". Some journalists and commentators spoke about how nice it is to see "democracy in action" in this "party of the people", while others expressed revulsion.
When the results came, it became clear that the huge investments in pens, flying devices etc. had no real effect on the elections, acting as the decoration for an orgy of corruption. Unsuccessful candidates started telling the media and police about the demands by voters to receive bribe in return for backing a candidate or securing a group of voters. Influential and not-so-influential members of the Centre shamelessly stated the price per head of a vote. One Centre member organised for his friends a stay at a luxurious hotel, other perks included, paid for through candidates’ money (or at least one, a vice-minister).
The media took an interest in one of the fresh candidates likely to become a member of Knesset (parliament) after the elections, and found out she was backed by a crime family who owns several casinos abroad. This family has been trying for a long time to legalise casinos in Israel, and with this aim in mind had in the past set up "The Iraqi Group". This was a group of MK’s, rightwing and "leftwing", who developed close ties with the father of this new politician, spent time at his casino in Turkey, and in return acted to promote the legalisation of casino gambling in Israel. In the past, when asked about this Iraqi Group, the candidate’s father said, "and what of it? The Moroccan Jews take care of themselves, we’ll take care of ourselves", trying to explain away his ties with these MK’s by the fact that like him, they were of Iraqi origin.
This candidate’s public record before making Likud’s list is equally amazing. She had been active in Likud Youth (the youth group used by the party in election campaigns, and whose activists must be younger than 18), and then served in the army’s radio station. Since her release from the army she had not been active in Likud politics until the beginning of the election campaign.
Another mobster who played an important role in these primaries is Musa Alperon, a well-known king of the underworld with many convictions in his past.
He had been elected to the Centre from his local branch, pushing aside a group of long established Likud activists from his area of residence.
The third, also a Centre member, was formerly part of Alperon’s gang, collecting debts. This person was a member of a group of Likud activists who took over the Ramat Gan branch (the Finance Minister’s Likud branch), a group that included the finance minister.
Today, it seems, he is tied to (and perhaps owns a part of) a security firm that has won a fat contract from the state, entrusting it with guarding the country’s border checkpoints. He also has ties with one of the Prime Minister’s sons, who during and before Sharon’s term in office advised him on foreign as well as home issues.
The media raised a hew and cry over these revelations, and some outlets pushed them with a frenzy, behind which stood the "responsible" capitalists, who tend to be supporters of Likud’s direct competitors, the so-called Labour party.
In the past two years the Israeli capitalists have made clear their preference for a "National Unity" government which would balance Likud and make Sharon less dependent on the parties of the extreme-right settlers and the ultra-orthodox.
Some of them were clearly worried over the polls, which at the time had shown Likud at close to 40 seats. They tried to undermine Likud’s apparent strength, but have succeeded only to a very limited degree.
Sharon found a convenient victim/scapegoat in Naomi Blumental, a vice-minister implicated in this scandal, threatening that if she remained silent when interrogated by police, he would fire her. When this actually took place, Sharon was said to have "proven" himself to be an "honest and responsible leader".
At the same time Likud’s champions of the rule of law used the threat of war in Iraq to try and sneak corruption headlines through the back door. As Maariv headlines were shouting "Corruption", Yediot cried "War". While many talked and wrote about Likud corruption, a noted journalist claimed on the state radio that "people are trying to denigrate a glorious movement because of a few individuals".
Initially the polls put Likud a bit closer to Labour, but still without any hope of a "left" victory, and the reason becomes clear at a deeper glance: most people polled by Haaretz daily answered that Labour and Likud were equally corrupt!
Lack of trust in the political system has become generalised (with lack of trust in the media almost on the same level). This, added to the general despair in society and the atmosphere of an approaching (additional) war, put Likud almost back to where it was before this scandal was revealed, in spite of two other scandals which followed hot on the first one’s heels.
Godfather Part II
The other two scandals involving Sharon have been the Greek Island affair and the story of his dealings with South African millionaire Cyril Karen. Both, like the first scandal, involve bribery, and both show, even more clearly than the primaries issue, the link between big business and politics.
The Greek Island affair features David Appel, an Israeli millionaire implicated in several past scandals, as well as Greek politicians (including the Mayor of Athens), P.M. Sharon’s second son and Ehud Olmert, Mayor of Jerusalem (also a prominent figure in Likud).
The Karen affair concerns a donation of some 1.5 million Shekels (£200 000) to one of Sharon’s sons by the South-African tycoon, in order to cover a debt incurred during Sharon’s campaign in the previous Likud primaries (the limit on a single donation to a political party is 1,800 Shekels or £250).
Sharon has entangled himself further when his answers to these accusations included obvious half-truths and omissions, and acting on his advisers counsel he eventually held a special TV address. He gave a very nervous performance, blatantly attacking his political rivals and "persecutors" without providing real answers, and ended up being dramatically taken off the air on the orders of judge Hashin, head of the Central Electoral Committee (Israeli election law prohibits the broadcasting of "election propaganda" in the immediate period preceding elections outside designated time-slots).
This unprecedented step by judge Hashin, taken just when it seemed the heat was on Sharon, turned out to provide a miraculous salvation for Sharon and Likud. Their spin was that Hashin, a typical specimen of the "leftwing" Ashkenazi elite in the judiciary, media and establishment in general, had maliciously intervened in order to shut Sharon’s mouth and stop rightwing views from being heard.