For better or worse, the upcoming elections are suddenly interesting again. While the Likud vote-buying scandal is unlikely to affect which party emerges victorious, it could yet have a major impact on the coalition partners to the next government.
The big winner from the scandal will likely be Shinui. It is hard to imagine that many potential Likud voters will switch to Labor, given that that Labor’s candidate for PM, Amnon Mitzna, is to the Left of Meretz on the peace process. Nevertheless there are many members of the old Ashkenazi elites who were holding their noses to vote for Likud and will now be unable to do so. Associating with the lumpen-proletariat was bad enough, but with petty criminals too much. Shinui provides a respectable, middle-class alternative without the taint of Oslo.
If Shinui wins 14 seats, Sharon will be sorely tempted to choose Shinui over three fractious religious parties, especially if Mitzna can swallow hard and join a government led by Sharon, whom he abhors personally and politically, in a decidedly junior capacity. (There will be no Defense or Foreign Ministry for Mitzna in a Likud-led government.) Without Labor, of course, Sharon will still need the religious parties, and it is doubtful if the cabinet table is big enough for them and Tommy Lapid.
It is already an old tradition within Likud for its candidates for PM to be painfully embarrassed by the fistfights, cut microphones, and general bedlam that typically accompany gatherings of the Likud Central Committee. And certainly Prime Minister Sharon’s efforts to present himself as a grandfatherly statesman calmly steering the ship of state were not made easier by the circus atmosphere at the Tel Aviv fairgrounds.
Sharon should have seen that the selection of the party’s list by the relatively few members of the Central Committee was a virtual invitation to vote-buying, and acted to forestall the disaster waiting to happen.
No one familiar with the Likud Central Committee, which boasts at least one member of Israel’s leading underworld family, can dismiss out of hand the charges by several disappointed Likud candidates that they were approached by vote contractors. The selection of a 27-year-old waitress, whose family has been the frequent object of police attention, does raise eyebrows. That being the case, the Attorney-General was certainly right to order an immediate probe of the charges in order to remove any taint from the electoral process.
My guess is, however, that even if vote contractors were active in the Central Committee, they had little impact. At the very most, the Knesset will gain another incompetent backbencher or two – hardly a novelty. Even the victory of the ethically-challenged Tzahi Hanegbi resulted from having provided jobs in the small Environmental Ministry to 87 Central Committee members (just think what he’ll be able to do with a larger ministry), not to any money passing hands. The success of candidates close to Binyamin Netanyahu should have occasioned little surprise. Netanyahu is known to be stronger in the Central Committee than the party at large, and the rebuke to Sharon was a warning that his frequent references to a Palestinian state do not find favor in the eyes of the party faithful.
IT IS CURIOUS how few of those waxing indignant about the integrity of the Likud electoral process were similarly outraged by the selection of Yitzchak Herzog to the tenth spot on the Labor list. As the hub of the Barak campaign’s use of fictitious non-profit organizations, Herzog’s actions affected a national election for prime minister, not just internal party selection procedures. The State Comptroller has already fined Labor over 13 million shekel for funneling over five million shekels through the illegal non-profits.
The charges against Herzog include breach of fiduciary duty for transferring huge sums from charitable foundations of which he was the trustee into the Barak campaign coffers, filing false incorporation papers for the fake amutot, and suborning perjury from witnesses before the State Comptroller. He has steadfastly stonewalled all police questioning, and the police have recommended his prosecution.
More disgraceful yet was the way the Likud scandal completely pushed the Yossi Ginossar affair out of the limelight. Ginossar’s wheeling and dealing cuts to the very heart of the Oslo process, which has so far claimed more than a thousand Israeli lives. His was not run-of-the-mill venality but double-dealing worthy of John Le Carre. At the same time he was serving a succession of Israeli prime ministers as a special envoy to Arafat, Ginossar was raking in millions by managing $300 million stolen by Arafat from the Palestinian treasury. Those services continued even after the onset of the current violence.
Ginossar was negotiating with Arafat even as he had a fortune riding on maintaining Arafat’s favor. That may explain why at Camp David Ginossar took the lead in pushing further Israeli concessions to Arafat. What is more, it appears that the Israeli government actually felt it was in Israel’s interest to aid and abet Arafat’s corruption on the theory that the more he and his cronies skimmed off the top of the peace bubble the more invested they would be in the process.
Ginossar is but one example of how Oslo turned into a lucrative business for its most ardent proponents. Yossi Beilin has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the European Community so that he can wander the globe telling anyone who will listen that Ariel Sharon, not Yasser Arafat, is responsible for starting the current round of violence and its continuation, thereby undermining Israel’s international standing. But that story too had a shelf life of only a few days.
There is a benign explanation as to why the press devotes more attention to the petty chicanery in the Likud than to corruption that threatens our very existence. It is easier for most of us to relate to run-of-the-mill sleaze than to actions that border on treason. The latter is simply beyond our emotional grasp.
That benign explanation, however, will not explain the differential treatment of the opposing sides of the political spectrum. The Bar-On affair dominated the news for weeks because of the allegations – none of which were ever substantiated – that major national decisions were made for personal reasons. But the same applies to the Ginossar scandal. Similarly, we followed breathlessly for weeks the story of whether the Netanyahus stiffed a contractor for thousands of dollars in unpaid bills. But the charges that Shimon Sheves, as head of Prime Minister Rabin’s office, was promised millions of dollars by local arms dealers for arranging a state visit from the head of a foreign government is strictly back page news.
The recent voting scandals in both Likud and Labor party elections suggest something rotten in the state of Israel. The way the press covers the scandals suggests something more rotten still.