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Petty Corruption

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All these generals (except Ezer Weitzman, who came from a rich family) grew up in very straitened circumstances. Their parents were members of kibbutzim (communal villages) or moshavim (cooperative villages), all of which were at the time extremely poor. Sharon, a moshav-boy, told me that he walked every day for half an hour to his high school and back to save the bus fare.

That was true for the next generation of leaders, too. Ehud Olmert, the ex-prime minister -- now in prison for corruption -- grew up in a very poor neighborhood and became obsessed with owning expensive things. The ex-president of the state, Moshe Katzav, who shares a prison with him, was sentenced for rape, not corruption, but also grew up in poverty as a new immigrant.

(The current joke has it that after a concert in prison the warden announces: "Everybody remain seated until the President and the Prime Minister leave.")

Ehud Barak, a former Chief of Staff and Prime Minister, is now amassing a large fortune by "giving advice" to foreign governments. He grew up in a poor village.

I myself was spared this craving for money, though I, too, lived in utmost poverty after coming to Palestine at the age of 10. Luckily, before that I grew up in very well-to-do circumstances in Germany. Since my family and I were much happier in Israel than in Germany, I learned that happiness has nothing to do with riches.

ALL THIS crosses my mind because we are bombarded almost daily with accusations of corruption against Binyamin Netanyahu and his highly unpopular wife, Sarah.

Sarah'le, as she is commonly called, a former air stewardess who met her husband on a flight, seems to be a shrew who tyrannizes the staff of the official residence. Some of these have sued her. They revealed that she pilfers the public purse for her private needs.

But what is really disturbing is that Sarah Netanyahu, who was not elected by anyone, seems to be in charge of all senior public appointments. No one can reach these heights without being interviewed and approved by her personally.

She has appointed all three senior law-enforcement officials: the Legal Advisor (actually the Super-Attorney General), the powerful State Comptroller and the Chief of Police.

If so, this was an act of foresight. Because now the three of them are sitting day and night and consulting each other about what to do with the flood of disclosures about the Netanyahu family's financial affairs. They desperately want to avoid indicting the Netanyahus for anything, but that becomes increasingly difficult, since they are subject to the supervision of the Supreme Court.

I have already reported on some of these disclosures, but new ones pop up every week. It has become a kind of national sport.

It began with the disclosure that before becoming Prime Minister, at a time when he was in and out of government, Netanyahu used to be paid twice or thrice for his first-class air tickets by different unsuspecting institutions, without declaring that as income. This is now called in Israeli slang "Bibitours."

Since then he has been involved in all kinds of affairs bordering on criminal corruption which are in various stages of "examination." New ones are added to the list all the time. The three Neyanyahu-appointed legal officers are in constant consultation about whether to order a criminal investigation, which might compel him to leave office at least temporarily.

The climax was achieved when a Jewish financier accused in France of colossal fraud disclosed to the court that he had privately donated to Netanyahu a million Euros and paid Bibi's extremely expensive hotel bills in many cities, including the French riviera. The exact sums are in doubt, but it is not denied that Netanyahu received from the man, who was already under suspicion of corruption at the time, large sums of money.

The generous Israeli taxpayers (including me) paid for the five days of Bibi's stay in New York last fall, to the tune of some 600,000 dollars. This sum -- more than 100 thousand dollars per day -- included the payment for his private hairdresser (1600 dollars) and his make-up woman (1750 dollars). The purpose of the trip was to address the UN General Assembly. I wonder how much each word cost.

The information was disclosed by order of the court under the Freedom of Information Law.

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Uri Avnery is a longtime Israeli peace activist. Since 1948 has advocated the setting up of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. In 1974, Uri Avnery was the first Israeli to establish contact with PLO leadership. In 1982 he was the first Israeli ever to meet Yassir Arafat, after crossing the lines in besieged Beirut. He served three terms in the (more...)
 

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