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From the Right: Leveraging Israel’s Future

“They send in the money and we serve in the army”. This line (or a variation of it) defined, in people’s minds, a major aspect of the relationship between the Diaspora and Israel when I was growing up there. It is an unspoken mutual understanding of sorts that has worked quite well since independence. At that time the young democracy was hungry for funds and the wealthy Diaspora mainly from America was eager to help. The service in the army and risking lives is still being used to balance the rest of the equation which calls for “no strings attached”. In real terms it means that no matter what government is in power or what political system is in place or how well it operates, money keeps flowing. One such example is the Israeli Bonds (handled by Development Corporation for Israel with annual sales at about $1 billion). In return, with raw memories of the Holocaust forever etched in people’s mind, a strong and secure place for the Jewish people is being created.

In my opinion it is time to revisit the “no strings attached” part of the equation in order to deal with one of the biggest threats currently facing Israel, namely corruption.  More specifically, political based corruption, which is the worse kind. The danger is amplified by the fact that this kind of malady has the potential to permeate silently, like cancer, into other walks of life and strike without warning, threatening the foundation of Israel.

Lest I be labeled an alarmist, let me provide some points of reference. The prime minister Olmert was recently forced to resign under the weight of not one but seven ongoing investigations, one of them, which took place  while Olmert was a mayor of Jerusalem , earned the dubious title the ‘Talansky Affair’. This case is especially problematic since it borders on interference in Israel’s politics and that is not what I am advocating. Providing money-stuffed-envelopes to Olmert at 3am at the airport, possibly in order to support a narrow agenda, is bad enough but accepting them by the now prime minister is outright dangerous. Omri Sharon (Ariel Sharon’s son) who was elected to the Knesset in 2003, became involved in a scandal relating to fundraising for his father’s 1999 Likud leadership campaign. He was sentenced to nine months in prison, a nine-month suspended sentence, and a fine. Aryeh Deri, from the Shas Party, was once the most influential man in the country, a politician whose whim decided the fate of successive Israeli governments. In 1999 Deri was convicted of taking bribes (from 3 associates, who were also convicted of bribery) while serving as Interior Minister and given a three-year jail sentence.   Three years after his release he asked the courts to allow him to run in an upcoming election bid for the position of Mayor of Jerusalem no less (the courts refused). Last but definitely not least, Avraham Hirshszon, finance minister and a close ally of Olmert, was indicted in 2008, while in office, on charges of embezzlement, graft and money laundering.

True, one percent of rotten apples should not reflect on the rest of the country. However, when the one percent is symptomatic of the problems that go deep and wide at the helm, the Diaspora should worry about the structural integrity of the shelter that is being created. Small countries like Israel, with limited number of people and natural resources, operate within a very narrow margin of error. Each mistake, from security and politics to the environment, is bound to be magnified many times over.

Serious consideration should be given to using the great financial leverage of the Diaspora (remember those Israeli Bonds with annual sales at about $1 billion?) to help secure the future of Israel by insisting that changes be made. Changes that would hopefully result in sound governance. Steps may include adding control mechanisms, transparency, setting qualifications for obtaining state positions, stopping rampant nepotism, etc. In short a major revamping of the political system. Sometimes all it takes is a fresh new look at things from outside. When Stanley Fisher, the ex vice chairman of Citigroup, was considered for the position of governor of the Bank of Israel in 2005 he faced major resentment since he was an outsider. It did not take long for him to earn respect and trust after setting higher standards of operation in this critical post.

There are voices in Israel that call for halting any financial support for Israel. They see money sent for specific agendas, for example the settlements, as blatant interference in Israel’s internal affairs and they may have a point, however, that is only a small fraction of the total support. For sake of consistency those voices should also be adamantly against Israelis interfering in the internal affairs of the US.  A well funded and professional video-production called ‘Israelis for Obama’ is widely circulating on the web, targeting specifically the American Jews.

For the Diaspora, deciding to remain on the sideline is a poor option, it mean dodging responsibility and accepting the possible dire consequences. Sixty years of “no strings attached” is long enough. Let me be perfectly clear, I am not advocating changes in how donations are made to various charity or other type of organizations that directly effect people’s lives. Rather, I suggest using funds destined to be used at the state level as leverage in order to advance changes in a political system that appears to be in urgent need of repair.  The people of Israel and the Diaspora deserve better.

Addendum (loosly translated from Hebrew).  From the well respected Israeli Haartez Newspaper, 10/13/08: the Interpol and the UN agency that deals with crimes have announced that a new academy for fighting corruption is scheduled to open in Luxemburg in 2009. The purpose is to train top enforcement agencies and senior employees from various governments around the world in using techniques to identify and uproot corruption cases which cost an estimated one trillion dollars worldwide.

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One Response

  1. so, why is there so much corruption is israel? what does this signify? if there is so much of it, perhaps it is not corruption anymore but a norm, like baksheesh to a policeman is a norm in some countries, or smoking pot is a norm in amsterdam.

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