Israel’s Forgotten Corruptions
by Michael Widlanski
Journalists claim they are society’s watchdogs, but in Israel they have gone to sleep, ignoring the moral and criminal corruptions of yesterday among some of the main candidates and kingmakers in this year’s elections.
Israel’s press loves stories about Avigdor “Yvette” Lieberman and his alleged violations, but we do not hear much about the already proven crimes and sins of Aryeh Deri, Ehud Olmert, Haim Ramon , Tzipi Livni, Tzahi Hanegbi, Mickey Levy and Yaakov Peri. Let’s look at the record—something Israel’s press has not done.
Aryeh Deri, once the darling of the Left-oriented Israeli press, led the Shas Party and its spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef to support the ill-fated pact between Israel and the PLO in 1993. Without Shas, there would have been no Oslo Accords.
Terrorists murdered 1,000 Israelis and tourists in the next decade—the worst period of terror in Israel’s history—a period when Deri and Shas became rich power-brokers. Shortly after Oslo, Deri was caught taking bribes and was sentenced to three years in jail. There were additional cases pending against him that the State Prosecutor did not press, partly out of consideration for Deri’s young children.
Deri—who is often called “Rabbi” Deri by an obsequious press—has never really apologized to the public for his graft or for making Oslo possible, and he should be asked about both matters in every interview he gives, especially since he will be in the next Knesset, maybe in the Cabinet.
Deri and Shas pretend they guard security, and they pretend to care about religious values. Reporters in Israel should strip away that pretense.
For several weeks, Israeli journalists touted Ehud Olmert as a possible candidate to lead Kadima in these elections, even though Olmert was just convicted on several counts of graft and influence peddling while Minister of Trade.
Though acquitted on several other counts—on narrow technical legal grounds—his acquittal may be overturned on appeal. Olmert also faces additional major bribery and corruption charges from his time as Jerusalem’s mayor. It is amazing that reporters from Yediot, Maariv and Israeli TV see him as a candidate for anything but a jail cell.
But reporters are not alone. Tzipi Livni, former leader of Kadima, the largest party in the Knesset, consulted repeatedly with Olmert and Haim Ramon (convicted of sexual abuse) to plan her putative political comeback. Consorting with two convicts is a weird posture for someone who likes to be called “Mrs. Clean.”
Livni and Ramon make a good team. Ramon helped Ariel Sharon form Kadima, and Livni got a career as Sharon’s distaff decoration—the front woman who promised the Gaza pull-back would not proceed unless approved by a vote inside the Likud.
Sharon lost two votes inside Likud and went ahead with his Gaza plan anyway. Sharon lied. Livni lied. Neither said they were sorry to 10,000 people evicted from Gaza for nothing. They did not apologize for Hamas’s takeover, not to the people whose homes have been attacked by Hamas.
Ramon scolded people who opposed the calamitous Oslo Accords and the disastrous Gaza pull-out, and he waved off the terror casualties as korbanot shalom—“sacrifices for peace.” Reporters should remind Livni and Ramon of these events during interviews especially when Livni continues to pretend she is “Mrs. Clean.”
After retiring for a few weeks, Livni, who says she never sold out principles for money, tried to buy as many principals for money as she possibly could. She shopped from the dying Kadima Party for MK’s willing to give her their campaign financing. Have reporters asked what these MK’s are getting in return from “Mrs Clean”?
The Likud is not that clean either, having returned the convicted Tzahi Hanegbi to the front ranks of its party. Hanegbi has been dancing in and out of illegalities for his whole career. He is most famous for bragging about how many political appointees he had imposed on his ministry.
What reporters do not like to remember is that Hanegbi has been a serial employer of controversial tactics including political and physical abuse for most of his career. As a youthful politician, he literally threw his weight around college campuses, and as he grew older he was known for sabotaging an opponent’s sound system, and threatening a neighbor with a gun during a dispute over a parking place.
Yaakov Peri, a star of Yair Lapid’s new party, was a director of the Shin Bet counter-terror agency. How many reporters have asked him about corruption scandals and questionable judgment that dogged the end of his career?
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir asked a special investigator—Gen. Raphael Vardi—to probe charges of financial and sexual corruption by Shin Bet head Peri. The charges were true, but Shamir said Peri could retire quietly when his term was set to end in a few months. However, Peri stayed on when Yitzhak Rabin defeated Shamir in the 1992 election. Shamir left, not Peri.
Peri loudly backed the Oslo Accords and the insane idea that Yasser Arafat’s PLO would defend Israel against Hamas. Peri later installed Karmi Gillon as his successor as Shin Bet director, even though Gillon had no serious experience in the Arab sector. Gillon was forced to resign as Shin Bet head after failing during Rabin’s assassination.
True, one cannot blame Peri for Oslo or the Rabin murder, but if Peri’s corrupt career had been terminated, history might have been affected. Since leaving the Shin Bet, Peri has continued to lead a sweet life of many perks, high salary and bonuses as a bank director at Bank Mizrahi and at the Celcom mobile telephone company.
Peri is certainly not the only Knesset candidate whose career suggests corruption and who sought the sweet life, but the Knesset already has enough of that.
Yair Lapid’s party Yesh Atid—“There is a Future”—has another star whose record raises serious questions that are not being asked by the press. Mickey Levy, ex-chief of Jerusalem’s police, pioneered the black-jacketed Yasam—mobile patrol—units on motorcycles that have been known to use physical pressure a little frequently.
This tendency may come from Levy himself who, along with six of his men, roughed up demonstrator Nadia Matar, the leader of the rightist Women in Green movement. Levy and his men claimed she attacked them.
Matar was put on trial, but fortunately a Channel 2 TV news team had recorded the whole chain of events, proving Levy and six burly policemen mugged a lone woman.
The court saw the film, and when Levy repeated his perjury, the court judge, Rafi Carmel, pointedly said to Levy: ani matzia la’adoni lishtok— “I suggest that the gentleman remain silent.”
This is not an unknown incident, and it is the job of the Israeli media to probe it and other incidents and let the public make an informed decision on the record of the new candidates.
Indeed, that is not the only disappointing aspect of Mickey Levy’s record. During his command of Jerusalem’s police he “distinguished himself” by never—absolutely never—trying to face down unilateral Arab attacks in Jerusalem, especially the wholesale destruction of artifacts on the Temple Mount.
One thing is for sure, Israel needs public servants who will work hard, putting the country first.
Israel’s public space needs people with ideological convictions not criminal convictions or patterns of corruption and mendacity.
Dr. Michael Widlanski, an expert on Arab politics and communications, is the author of Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat published by Threshold/Simon and Schuster. A former reporter, correspondent and editor, respectively at The New York Times, Cox Newspapers and The Jerusalem Post, he was Strategic Affairs Adviser in Israel’s Ministry of Public Security and teaches at Bar Ilan University.