Corruption scandals reveal crisis in Israeli ruling class

Recent allegations of corruption against Benjamin Netanyahu have sparked a backlash and his position looks more vulnerable than ever. Netanyahu is one of Israel’s longest-serving prime ministers has been in power for two non-consecutive periods totalling over 11 years. Throughout this time his career and reputation have been repeatedly tarnished by controversy and corruption. In fact, his first premiership ended with an electoral defeat (1999) which was marred by a host of corruption allegations. Israeli Police recommended that he be indicted on two separate occasions, first in 1997 then again in 1999, however he avoided sentence due to lack of evidence.

Currently under investigation by police for multiple corruption charges, the cases against him sparked protests that have lasted for over six continuous weeks, with little sign of subsiding. Thousands of activists on the streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa are demanding his immediate resignation. The weight of public opinion has turned against him, he is being dubbed the “crime minister” and slogans such as “being a pig isn’t kosher” and “bibi must go” have been heard from the crowds.

Netanyahu defiantly maintains that the allegations against him are false and denies any wrongdoing. Despite the multiple open cases against him being public, and the fact that he has been questioned by Israeli police over six times in the past six weeks, he is utterly brazen in the face of the allegations, describing the unfolding situation as a media “witch-hunt”.

“If there will be recommendations by police to indict ‒ so what? Here is a fact I doubt the public knows: the vast majority of police recommendations end with nothing”, he commented.

With the protests raging in the background and the evidence against the prime minister mounting, Netanyahu’s allies in the Knesset drafted a bill forbidding the police from submitting written recommendations to the state prosecutor’s office. This bill was passed on Thursday 4 Jan, although due to the protests and the backlash the bill had to be watered-down and rewritten and will not apply to current cases against him. This backtracking reveals that the ruling party is concerned about the pressures mounting from below.

A Likud (Netanyahu’s Party) lawmaker MK Miki Zohar further exposes Netanyahu by telling Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet station:

“We wanted to protect the reputation of a specific elected official, who is the prime minister…I think my colleagues in the party made a mistake in not saying from the very beginning that this bill protects Netanyahu.”

For years Netanyahu filled the justice system and party coalition with allies, and thus retains a loyal circle of cronies. He has previously managed to garner sympathetic coverage in the country’s press and has attempted to heavy-handedly smear all investigations against him as partisan witch-hunts. The fact that the press is now turning against him and trying to undermine his position by leaking the details of his corruption case to the public reveals a brewing crisis within Israeli society, and within the ruling class in particular.

Cases

The evidence against Netanyahu is mounting: he is personally involved in four separate corruption cases. In the first case, it has been alleged that Netanyahu’s wife Sara, once described as ‘Israel’s Marie Antoinette’ and their son Yair, regularly received lavish gifts from two wealthy capitalists. These gifts included expensive cigars, champagne, and thousands of dollars in cash. These “tokens of friendship” were allegedly in return for political favours.

Sara Netanyahu has been described as Israels Marie Antoinette for recieving lavish gifts from political allies Image Flickr US EmbassySara Netanyahu has been described as Israel's Marie Antoinette for receiving lavish gifts from political allies / Image: Flickr, US Embassy

The second case involves leaked conversations between the Prime Minister and a newspaper publisher called Arnon Mozes. It has been suggested that Netanyahu was willing to make a deal with a major Israel newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, in return for cutting the circulation of a rival newspaper Israel Hayom. Ari Harow Netanyahu’s former Chief of Staff and has agreed testify against Netanyahu. Netanyahu claims that he was not serious and the offers he made were simply a “test”.

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The third case involves an alleged bribe to high-ranking defence officials to advance a deal for the German shipbuilding company, ThyssenKrupp. It is alleged that Netanyahu tried to facilitate a deal on their behalf by pressuring the Defence Ministry into cancelling the previous tenure for the submarines and purchasing more submarines than deemed necessary. These claims have been asserted by former Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who has testified to the police.

The fourth case, dubbed the “Bezeq affair”, comes from a report that condemns Netanyahu for not disclosing his friendship with the controlling shareholder of Israeli Telecom company Bezeq. It suggests that Netanyahu was in a position to shape policy in the company’s favour and had previously fired the former minister after he had been trying to advance a broadband reform that would have hurt Bezeq’s monopoly.

Yair’s leaked recording

In the middle of all of this, a leaked audio clip of Netanyahu’s son Yair (26) and three friends secretly recorded outside a strip club in 2015 was recently played on Israeli television. In the clip you can clearly hear the four are inebriated and are talking about arranging meetings with prostitutes and joking about killing a security guard. Yair goes on to say to Nir Maimon, the son of natural gas tycoon Kobi Maimon:

“Bro, you have to spot me [money for a prostitute - ed.] My dad made an awesome deal for your dad, bro. He fought, fought in the Knesset for this, bro...Bro, my dad now arranged a $20 billion show for you and you can’t spot me 400 shekels?”

The conversation references a controversial deal in which anti-monopoly regulations were lifted on the offshore gas fields that are partially controlled by Kobi Maimon. The deal also protected the current owners from possible changes in taxation. A recent rise in the gas prices in Israel have been blamed on this deal, which has allowed for the creation of a monopoly in the country.

Nair Netanyahu left Image fair useYair Netanyahu (left) / Image: fair use

Crisis

There is clearly a split emerging in the Israeli ruling class, which has pushed to the forefront all these allegations that previously laid dormant. Former ministers, chiefs of staff and fellow party members have condemned Netanyahu in public and have come forward to testify.

Two sections of the political elite are manoeuvring against each other; the more liberal bourgeoisie and the careerists Likud clearly want Netanyahu to go. His brazen attitude towards the Palestinians is increasingly isolating Israel on the world stage. In the UN, Israel has repeatedly been condemned due to its actions in the West Bank and Gaza and the recent vote regarding the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel received condemnation from across the globe, including Israel’s trading partners such as India and Latin America. In the same vein, the current parliament is pushing for more and more Israeli settlements to be built in Gaza and the West Bank, with even an attempt to try and draft a bill that will make Israeli law the law of the settlements. The Israeli opposition has likened this to an annexation whilst the right-wingers reply: “people cannot annex their own homeland”.

The two powerful bourgeois parties in Israel ‒ the Likud and the more liberal split from that party, the Kadima ‒ have been in power for almost 20 years and have dominated politics since the 1970s. The leadership that the country inherited from the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict, and the children of Israel's ‘founding generation’ have ossified into a corrupted circle of elites. However, the increasing boldness of Netanyahu risks upsetting the balance of power that the ruling class relies on for stability.

Many prominent figures are jostling for Netanyahus position Image Avi OhayonProminent figures are jostling for Netanyahu's position / Image: Avi Ohayon

Netanyahu’s party is increasingly propping itself up on the ultra-orthodox right-wing sections of the Israeli masses. This is reflected in the Knesset, where he has been forced to form coalitions with the smaller ultra-conservative parties in order to retain a governing majority. This is forcing the more liberal bourgeoisie to grant concessions to the more orthodox Zionists. On 9 January, the Knesset passed a law nicknamed the “grocery store law”, wherein a stricter enforcement of the Shabbat laws were to be introduced. These restrict businesses from opening and services from operating on the Holy day of the week.

Netanyahu is also appealing to the most backward sections of the Israeli masses by deliberately inciting racial tension against immigrants. Non-Jewish people are targeted in a cynical attempt to divert attention away from his own troubles: the Israeli government openly calls migrants and refugees ‘infiltrators’. Over 40,000 people of largely East African descent have been told that if their application for asylum fails, they must either leave Israel within three months or face imprisonment. Many are choosing jail.

Israel’s right-wing media have made frenzied attacks on the migrant population and many media outlets are giving full support to the scheme. Protesters have come out on the street in condemnation of the racist programme, however they have been met by counter-protesters mobilised by the right wing.

Destroyed ambulance on Gaza strip Image Boris NiehausDestroyed ambulance on Gaza strip / Image: Boris Niehaus

The ruling class in Israel have always used this kind of reaction to cut across the class struggle. Leaning on the fear of an Arab invasion, and the distrust of non-Jewish immigrants and outsiders whips up hysteria, drawing attention away from the government’s own incompetence and corruption

At present, around 20 percent of Israelis ‒ estimated at over 1.7m people ‒ live in poverty, according to a report from the National Insurance Institute. In Jerusalem, 55 percent of children are living in poverty and Israel has officially the highest poverty rate in the OECD. Israeli workers have longer hours, fewer holidays and inferior access to healthcare and education compared to other workers in other OECD countries. As long as there is a sieged mentality in the Israeli working class, then class struggle can be cut across by nationalism.

But large parts of the ruling class believe that Netanyahu is taking it too far. His pandering to the right, and his general behaviour is not for the benefit of the ruling class, but to maintain his own personal position. This is destabilising the system as a whole and therefore they are trying to reign him in.

What next?

The ongoing protests against Netanyahu reflect the undercurrent of crisis. According to a poll published by Hadashot TV news, 60 percent of Israelis think Netanyahu should resign if police were to recommend bribery charges. However, Netanyahu refuses to leave, despite his own ministers’ and party members’ condemnation. He retains around him a circle of fiercely loyal allies that are still yet to turn against him. His opponents are on one hand embarrassed by the corruption allegations but on the other are divided on who should replace him.

Many within this own party are jostling for a leadership position, including former allies like Oren Hazan. At a faux-Likud primary held at the Likudiada retreat for party members in Eilat; Culture Minister Miri Regev, Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel and Communications Minister Ayoub Kara made their interest in leadership clear, though an obvious replacement for Netanyahu has not emerged. Some sections of the ruling class are getting worried about the protests and fear they may get out of hand. The extent of Netanyahu’s corruption is exposing the whole bourgeoisie and risks revealing the whole rotten system to the masses.

Netanyahu and his government's use of pious rhetoric exposes the hypocrisy of the country’s ruling class. As their own decadence, sexual perversions, and corruption are well documented. For decades, Israeli politics have been steeped in corruption: three previous prime ministers have been investigated for corruption. Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert resigned as Prime Minister and was indicted for fraud, tax evasion and falsifying documents. He was later convicted again in 2012 on a count of “breach of trust”. In March 2014 he was convicted of bribery, and was imprisoned for 16 months of a 19 month sentence. Even the current interior minister, Aryeh Deri, has been previously convicted for taking bribes. The system in Israel is rotten to its core and the crisis arising from this rot is deepening.

The most recent spate of scandals has provoked a reaction among ordinary Israelis. The elite is worried that this will go beyond their control. The crisis is widening class contradictions in society. Of course, the scandals that are unfolding just offer a peek behind the curtain. Capitalism survives through exploitation, corruption, and the advancement of the interests of a tiny group of parasites. The rising class struggle will pit the workers and youth against this rotten class and open a new chapter in the history of Israel and the wider region.

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