A Nation Under Investigation

September 2nd, 2009

Israel’s former prime minister is only the latest to be called corrupt. Why is the nation’s political class plagued by scandal?


This week heralds a high-water mark for corruption-busters in Israel: state prosecutors have indicted the most recent prime minister, Ehud Olmert, just five months after he left office, on counts of fraud, breach of trust, falsifying corporate records, and tax evasion. Three of his predecessors were investigated for various offenses, but Olmert is the first prime minister accused in a criminal case. Unfortunately, he has ample company in the political firmament. Former president Moshe Katsav is standing trial for raping and sexually assaulting former female assistants. Another former president, Ezer Weizman, escaped prosecution on bribery and nondisclosure charges (though he was forced to resign in shame) only because the statute of limitations had elapsed. Former finance minister Avraham Hirchson, and former labor and welfare minister Shlomo Benizri reported yesterday to state prisons, beginning their jail sentences for corruption. Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, who has brought Olmert and Katsav to trial, will soon decide whether to indict the sitting foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, for fraud, taking bribes, and money laundering. Why are Israeli politicians so corrupt?

The defendants may vary from the greedy to the lecherous, but they share a common thread: senior politicians behaved as if they were untouchable, as if the perks of their public office include illegal payments or sexual exploitation of underlings. Tellingly, none were accused of one-time blunders or of misinterpreting the rules; they were all accused of committing serial crimes.

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