By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
The political situation in Israel is volatile, particularly before a general election. Only a few days ago I could speculate about Avigdor Lieberman not only as a kingmaker but as a potential king. He had spoken about his readiness to be prime minister.
At the end of the piece I wrote I referred briefly to the news just in that members of his party were being investigated for corruption and that this may change his prospects. It has indeed. Many in Lieberman’s inner circle have been named. The charges of corruption against them are said to be very serious. A poll held since the publication of this news suggests that the party may not even reach the minimum threshold to qualify for any seats. How have the mighty fallen!
We’re told that Lieberman himself isn’t implicated. However, in view of the fact that he isn’t just the leader of his party, Yisrael Beiteinu, but its virtual owner, it’s difficult to believe that he didn’t know, perhaps even approve of, what was going on.
The leaders of the other parties have chosen not to comment on Lieberman’s predicament. It may be because they’re gentlefolk, but it’s more likely that they’re still reckoning that he may recover and be needed in their coalition after the election. He has declared that he doesn’t exclude making common cause with any party that’ll give him what he wants. At present he’s Israel’s foreign minister, God help us.
Not unexpectedly, Lieberman describes the charges as characteristic pre-election persecution of his party and his people. He himself had been under investigation for many years to the detriment of his political ambitions, but all charges were finally dropped. Understandably, he sees the current actions as yet another attempt to discredit him and what he stands for in order to make sure that he doesn’t get to the top. Of course, we’ve no evidence to that effect, but his allegation isn’t outlandish.
People may also speculate that the allegations aim at discrediting the Russians in Israeli society many of whom vote for Lieberman’s “Russian” party. On the other hand, the massive aliyah from the former Soviet Union took place almost a generation ago and whatever animosity there was then would have evaporated by now, even though he’s said to have ditched some non-Russians on his next Knesset list.
This is reminiscent of many years ago when Arieh Deri, now again the leader of the predominantly Sephardi Shas, was being investigated and finally sent to prison. His defenders said then that it was a way of discrediting non-Ashkenazim. It may have been a cogent argument but the facts proved otherwise. It may be the same in this case.
When President Moshe Katsav was charged with rape, he also claimed anti-Sephardi prejudice. The law proved otherwise and he’s now in jail.
The corruption charges are a typical case of good news/bad news. The good news is that Israeli society is vigilant. The people around Lieberman aren’t the only ones charged with abuse of funds. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is awaiting sentencing and several mayors around the country are in the same boat. The bad news is, of course, that there’s so much of it. A lot has to do with money but there’re also several cases in the army and elsewhere (Katsav!) that concern sexual abuse of women.
The Zionist dream was to turn Jews into a people like all others. Corruption is apparently part of the price we pay for having realized the dream. Isn’t it too high?