Several Israeli ministries have been swept up in a massive corruption scandal (Hebrew) that rises all the way to former tourism minister, Stas Misezhnikov and deputy interior minister, MK Faina Kirshenbaum (Yisrael Beitenu). The identities of the specific ministries, suspects, and those arrested were under gag till minutes ago. I’d been one of the first to tweet Kirshenbaum’s rumored arrest a few hours ago–perhaps it was the tweet heard (half-way) round the world! Just before the lifting of the gag I confirmed that Kirshenbaum had been arrested by the police. The chief suspects seem to be associated with Yisrael Beitenu, and the scandal will rock the party and color its electoral prospects (unless its voters disbelieve the media accounts, seeing this as an anti-Russian conspiracy, which is entirely possible).
Till the gag was lifted, we had yet another example of half of Israel already knowing the news and the other half (included among them, journalists) being unable to publish or air it. Oh, the opacity of Israel’s archaic judicial system! Seven million Israelis want the news, most of them already know it via rumor, and till the gag was lifted I was the one who could officially publish it. Go figure.
The charges involve unlawful budgetary allocations to NGOs within local regional councils. This involved the laundering of funds through a straw company:
More than two dozen senior figures in the Israeli public sector have been detained for questioning over suspicion that they illegally allocated funds to non-sanctioned organization and laundered money through a straw company.
The approximately suspects also allegedly granted personal favors, engaged in bribery, and pushed for their associates’ promotions.
…The suspects include members of Knesset, a deputy minister, a former minister, the heads of regional authorities, the deputy general of a government office, the directors general and heads of non-governmental organizations, senior public union members and political activists. Further senior figures are expected to be subpoenaed for testimony.
Kirshenbaum is suspected of leading the bribery scheme which also involved Mizniekov and the others mentioned above. The scheme was methodical and well-organized and involved the suspects taking money allocated for public use and transferring it to various entities and government bodies which received budgetary allocations. The suspects extorted bribes, appointments, jobs, and favors from the officials in order to receive their allocation.
One of the most suspicious cases involved naming Kirshenbaum’s daughter to a newly-created job with an agricultural union, for which she seemed eminently unqualified. Another involved the appointment of the daughter of Absorption Minister and MK Sofa Landver, as human resources manager of an urban transport company.
Though this is clearly yet another example of public servants feeding at the public trough, I’m certain that these are not the only ones. These are the victims chosen by those more powerful than them to serve as examples of what happens when their betters feel threatened by their success; or when the powerful feel their lessers need to be taken down a notch or two. Everyone from the top to the bottom of the political club is in on the take including the prime minister himself. It’s a congenital disease. It’s the name of the game. So let’s not kid ourselves that this is an example of Israeli democracy working as it should; or the authorities rooting out corruption from the public sphere. That’s a notion only the naive and Panglosses can afford.
Returning to Kirshenbaum, she chaired her party over the past decade and is a political intimate of Avigdor Lieberman. She’s played the same role within Yisrael Beitenu that Lieberman used to play in Moldovan nightclubs: enforcer. There can be little doubt that the investigation is designed to harm the party and Lieberman’s political prospects. Even if this wasn’t a deliberate intent, it will be the result. Very few such high-ranking investigations would happen unless Bibi Netanyahu wanted them to. My guess this is meant to dent the electoral power of Lieberman’s party and drive voters to the Likud. Unless, that is the party faithful are so cynical and distrustful of the authorities that they believe the investigation is a set-up. In that case, Lieberman and the others will exploit this as an act of political persecution and turn themselves into martyrs.
One of Kirshenbaum’s betes noire during her terms in Knesset has been her desperate pursuit of MK Haneen Zoabi. She has led the charge against the Palestinian legislator, who’s been suspended from most of her parliamentary privileges due to her political outspokenness. Ironically, Israeli and Diaspora Jews have protested far more loudly against the Jewish nation state law than they have over the persecution of Zoabi, which has violated due process and democratic principle. This is further evidence of not just Israeli racism, but the hypocrisy of liberal Zionism. It’s far more concerned with maintaining Jewish power and privilege than protecting Palestinian rights.
One might say either the chickens are coming home to roost or someone’s getting her just desserts (or both).
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.