By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
Though the 15-20 minute five-times-a-week of television news broadcast that viewers in Israel get in English from the Israeli Broadcast Authority has deteriorated almost to the point of embarrassment. I still like to watch it, especially on Thursdays when Amotz Asa-el, one of the best informed and most sensible Israeli journalists I know of, is being interviewed.
*His interview last Thursday included wise comments on the latest corruption scandal that’s currently brewing in Israel. Arieh Deri, the undisputed leader of Shas, who presents himself as the champion of the underdog (largely, we assume, because many of his voters see themselves as belonging to that group), and who has already served several years in prison for corruption, is now being investigated for the extensive properties that he and his family appear to call their own.
At the same time, Isaac Herzog, the leader of the Zionist Union, is being investigated for abuse of campaign funds prior to his election as party leader a couple of years ago. According to Asa-el, Herzog Is facing stiff competition within his own party and the investigation may have been inspired by rivals from within. If he’s found guilty, he’ll be out. However, he was involved in something similar in the late 1990s when he was Ehud Barak’s right-hand man. Therefore, it’s not likely that this wise and sensible man would repeat his mistake, says Asa-el. And if he’s cleared, he’ll be stronger than before.
By contrast, Deri’s position within his own party doesn’t seem to be threatened and Asa-el didn’t seem clear as to possible consequences of the investigation other than more prison. For he does have a criminal record that suggests paying fast-and-loose with other people’s money. And there’re some individuals, perhaps no longer members of the party, who may wish to harm him.
In view of the many corruption scandals in Israel, the public is, of course, very sensitive to every rumour and the investigators are under great pressure to get it right. A former prime minister, Ehud Olmert, has just gone to jail on a similar crime. A former minister of finance, Avraham Hirschson, has already done time. And a respected member of the Labour Party who has served in many cabinet and was even a candidate for state president, Binyamin Ben Eliezer, is currently under investigation. But his reputed ill health will save him from jail, even if he’s convicted.
*Some say that the Deri and Herzog investigations are minor irritations when compared to the uproar around the arrest of the soldier who shot a Palestinian terrorist when the latter was already lying wounded on the ground. There’s now talk, however, that the soldier may only be indicted for manslaughter and not for murder. (Is it because of public pressure or on the merits of the case?)
*And then there’s the serious debate, following a recent Supreme Court decision, about the natural gas find and how it should be brought out from the bottom of the sea. But, like many Israelis I know, I don’t understand it enough to be able to comment. It seems, however, to hinge around an effort by Prime Minister Netanyahu to bypass the Knesset where he may not get a majority for his way of dealing with the developers of the find. Asa-el says that perhaps two other party leaders, Yair Lapid and Avigdor Lieberman, will choose to support Netanyahu – at a price, of course.
The above is by no means a full list, but enough of a sample to remind readers that life in Israel may be complicated and problematic, but it’s never dull.