Last month, I reported a major scandal engulfing Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu (YB) Party. The allegations centered around senior YB MK Faina Kirschenbaum (though the charges against her were rumored, I was first to report them outside Israel) and extended to a number of other YB-affiliated MKs. There were intimations that the accusations of bribery and kickback scheme may’ve reached all the way to Lieberman himself; and that MKs from other parties were also implicated.
Today, these intimations became real as MK Nissan Slomiansky, a long time Knesset member first serving the National Religious Party, and more recently Naftali Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi (BY) Party, became the long-expected other shoe to drop. Slomiansky, who prides himself on being a key supporter of the settler movement, plays a key legislative role as chair of the Knesset’s finance committee. Several Israeli tweeps, including this one, have indicated there is a judicial gag order prohibiting publication of his name and the charges against him. That’s why I’m here!
In 2013, the Jerusalem Post published charges first aired on Israeli TV that Slomiansky had employed “vote contractors” in last year’s Party primary. This little stunt made him the highest vote-getter in the election and caused Bennett to hire a private investigator to investigate the shenanigans.
His current predicament is related to the Kirschenbaum/kickback scandal, which involved MKs approving budget allocations for official entities such as municipalities and NGOs in return for a percentage of the allocation being kicked-back to the MK. The closest we’ve come to any official confirmation of a police investigation comes from the Orthodox publication, Kippah, which noted a report on Israeli radio news (audio–in Hebrew) that an unidentified BY MK is suspected of corruption in the Kirschenbaum scandal. It also noted two other MKs previously uninvolved have been added to the list of suspects allegedly involved in the scheme.
Haaretz’s business publication, The Marker, published an article yesterday ostensibly dealing with legislative proposals to reform the system of budget allocations which led to the scandal. Without any explanation at all, the editors inserted a photograph of Slomiansky into the article. Considering he’s not been previously implicated in this, this editorial decision is a direct reference to the charges and his possible arrest.
This new set of allegations is doubly important not just in itself, but because the scandal begins to engulf a Party that hadn’t previously been involved. Polls have noted that YB has lost half its support in the aftermath of the Kirschenbaum arrest. Much of that support likely passed to Bennett, whose popularity has skyrocketed, making him the pretender to the throne. With these new charges, Lieberman voters who were switching will likely be further frustrated. The danger for the centrist, so-called Zionist Camp, will be that they will not consider moving left, but rather will stay in the nationalist camp and move to Likud. In fact, Israeli corruption scandals are deeply political and even orchestrated by those in power to sabotage those who are less powerful, but who threaten the power of those wielding it.
Bibi Netanyahu is precisely the sort of schemer who would engage in this sort of Madam La Farge behavior. Though Lieberman and Bennett are erstwhile allies of Netanyahu and got their start in politics in the Likud camp, Netanyahu sees them not as his mentees, but as those who may topple him from power. Despite his three terms in office, Bibi continuously looks over his shoulder for pursuers who may be threatening to overtake him. Rather than the politics of a normal western democracy, this is the politics of Lord and Lady Macbeth. The only thing missing is the bodies and blood.
The current episode further affirms the corruption and venality at the heart of the Israeli settlement venture. Slomiansky boasts of being one of the pioneers of the movement and first director general of Gush Emunim. The ideological fervor that greeted the early settlement movement has become little more than a financial grub-fest in which politicians compete to see who can shake the most money from government trees for the benefit of further settlement building.
Bennett’s Party has also been attacked by the Israeli left as being a wolf in sheep’s clothing Party essentially parroting the agenda of settler extremists. Though it’s hard to believe that any rightist party could more slavishly embrace settlerism than Likud and YB (Lieberman’s Party). Just because that’s hard to do doesn’t mean the other parties won’t try. They fall over each other to do the bidding of the settlers much like members of the U.S. Congress fall all over themselves to do the bidding of the Lobby. In America, the Lobby controls the agenda concerning Israel in much the same way that settlers control the a much broader swath of the Israeli political agenda.
If Netanyahu or the Likud is involved in orchestrating this latest incident, then the question becomes whether the scandals benefit Likud, the centrist parties, or whether voters are so disgusted by the whole lot of them that they stay home entirely. One thing is for certain, my view of Israeli electoral politics is further strengthened by this mess. The Knesset is a cesspool of skullduggery and corruption. It reminds me more of Tammany Hall than the oracle of Israeli democracy.
Israeli politics is more about patronage and distributing the pieces of the pie to supporters than it is about policy or statesmanship. When the Knesset does debate or pass legislation it’s almost never about real issues of the day like income inequity, poverty, jobs, national security, etc. Rather, it’s about scoring points by touting petty political projects like redefining the Jewish nature of the State; or demanding Palestinians pledge a loyalty oath; or that Arabic be removed as one of the nation’s official languages. These are fiddling-while-Rome-burns issues peripheral to the lives of most Israelis, but right at the heart of the racist hack-jackals who form the core of the rightist parties.
For Hebrew readers wishing to be entertained by Slomiansky’s public gyrations about aiding the Israeli social sector by taking down the Israeli black market and putting millions back into the public budget, take a look at this link offered by reader Oui. Who knew the MK himself was participating in another quite lucrative aspect of the black market?
I really hope this will be proven wrong though Bennett might benefit since him and Slomiansky were rivals as mentioned in the JPost article above.
Betzalel Smotritz, no. 9 in the party, went to high-school with me. Kind of cool.
Richard Silverstein says
@ Ariel: Smotritz not so cool. Read Avirama Golan’s Haaretz column to which I linked. She thinks very poorly of him.
Piotr Berman says
How Bayit Yehudi can be “wolf in sheep clothing”? Did they ever try to don such clothing?
I thought that this party is divided into the camp of total messianic nuts, and moderate nuts who admit the possibility that the coming of the messiah will not solve all problems, including rather secular nationalistic nuts. And far from “parroting settler extremists”, they are settler extremists.
Richard Silverstein says
This concept originated in Avirama Golan’s Haaretz piece & she was talking about how BY is perceived by the average Israeli, not how we here perceive it.
Piotr Berman says
I will not pay Ha’aretz subscription, so I do not know what rhetorical device Golan applied. Average Israelis hardly exists, public opinion seems to be divided into sectors, and among those sectors, BY is the most rightwing party that manages to have members in the Knesset, although the competition for the title of “most resolute Zionist warrior” is complicated, and members of many parties are strong contenders.
It remains a fact that Slomiansky and many other members of BY are extremist settlers, that Bennet bragged that “he killed many Arabs and he has not problem with that”, that the party rejects the notion of peace process for nationalistic reasons and so on, and so on. Quite possible, “an average Israeli” loves extremist settlers, so he/she (is an average Israeli transgender, being average of two sexes?) would be loath to apply “wolf” label to such adorable folks.
Interestingly, kickbacks and other financial peccadillos (the latter, starring Mrs. Netanyahu) seem to affect all rightwing parties in Israel, which raises question about prevalent mentality of the voters. Is it “surely, a plot by extremist leftists who infest the police”, or “may be a crook, but he/she is a crook for the good cause”, or “I never hear about it” (a.k.a. low information voter)?