▲ Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Provided by almasdarnews.com.
Corruption and disorganization within the government was one of the issues that were widely discussed among Koreans in 2016. Interestingly, another country is suffering from a similar scandal—Israel. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, currently serving his second tenure since 2009, is under investigation due to allegations regarding corruption. The political changes that may follow are important given the significance of Israel’s role in international politics. Furthermore, it will be essential for other nations to learn lessons from Israel’s reaction to corruption.
Netanyahu was the 13th and is currently the 17th Prime Minister of Israel, a small but turbulent nation sometimes referred to as “the powder keg of the Middle East.” He is the leader of Likud, a right-wing political party, and served his first term from 1996 until 1999 when he was replaced following a general election. Immediately after the resignation of the 16th Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2009 due to allegations of corruption, Netanyahu succeeded in forming a coalition government, and has held the position ever since. However, it seems like he is about to follow the path of the former Prime Minister. How will Netanyahu’s corruption charges influence the politics of Israel? How does this incident inform Korean society?
Taking a Closer Look
Netanyahu is well-known to the Israeli public for his extravagant and luxurious lifestyle; it was once revealed that he has been spending about 1,000,000 pounds a year as living expense. As a result, investigations into possible financial corruption based on his spending habits have been common throughout his term. However, the most recent investigation seems to be different considering its seriousness and possible outcomes. “Following the Attorney General Avihai Mandelblit’s command, the police began their confidential investigation about a year ago,” explained Doctor Sung Il Kwang (Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Konkuk University).
▲ Doctor Sung Il Kwang. Photographed by Park Tae In.
After accumulating a large amount of evidence, the police disclosed the investigation to the public in late December 2016, calling Netanyahu in for interrogation in early January. Netanyahu is undergoing investigation for two main reasons. The first, Case 1000, is related to his acceptance of bribes from Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer. The bribe included expensive goods, champagne, and cigars totaling tens of thousands of dollars. Netanyahu’s wife and son, who received these illicit gifts and enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle, are also allegedly subject to investigation. Netanyahu claimed that they were only gifts, not bribes that were supposed to result in political or economic privileges.
The second allegation, known as Case 2000, is more serious because it pertains to a shady alliance between Netanyahu and the media. The police procured recordings of a conversation in 2014 between Netanyahu and Arnon Mozes, the publisher of the renowned newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth. In this conversation, Mozes offered to release positive coverage of Netanyahu, who had been subject to fierce criticism by the media, so that he could win the 2015 election. In exchange, Mozes asked Netanyahu to introduce bills that would restrict the expansion of the free newspaper Israel Hayom, a major competitor of Yedioth Ahronoth. “Besides these two, it is anticipated that there exist two more yet unrevealed charges,” added Dr. Sung.
The Blurry Future of Israel
The police visited Netanyahu’s official residence on January 2 and 5 to interrogate him. Other people associated with the charges, including Milchan and Mozes, have also been investigated, and it is predicted that Netanyahu will be summoned for additional questioning. “The only remaining process is the decision by the Attorney General on whether Netanyahu will be under criminal indictment,” explained Dr. Sung. If Mandelblit decides to indict him, there will be an enormous amount of pressure on Netanyahu to resign. However, considering Netanyahu’s unflinching personality, whether he will resign or not remains to be seen.
Assuming that Netanyahu does relinquish his position, whether it is against his will or not, another election must be held within 90 days to elect a new Prime Minister. Because Israel currently follows a parliamentary democracy, the public will vote for individual parties in the election. The number of seats in Knesset, Israel’s parliament, will be allocated to each party depending on the number of votes it receives from the public. The leader of the party that takes possession of the majority of the 120 seats up for grabs in Knesset will become the new Prime Minister. Interestingly, none of the parties have ever held a majority by itself; instead, Israel has typically been run by a coalition government consisting of multiple parties.
The result of a potential election is also unforeseeable. “There are three parties that can produce the new Prime Minister—Yesh Atid, the incumbent Likud, and Bayit Yehudi,” explained Dr. Sung. According to a poll published in the Jerusalem Post on January 20, Yesh Atid, a centrist party currently holding 11 seats, would become the largest party with 26 seats if the election was held right now. Likud would follow, with its current 30 seats decreasing to 24. This indicates that Likud’s political dominance is changing to become a two-way race between Likud and Yesh Atid, with Yair Lapid, the leader of Yesh Atid, gaining massive popularity.
Even though Bayit Yehudi is not a major player yet, it should not be underestimated. It will be difficult for Bayit Yehudi, a Zionist reactionary party led by Naftali Bennett, to become the largest party in the next election. However, there exists the possibility of it forming a coalition government by cooperating with other religious parties. Because of this, regardless of which party takes the most seats, it is difficult to anticipate who will be the next Prime Minister through coalition. This means that it is too early to accurately predict the future of Israeli politics.
Influence on Foreign Relations
▲ Benjamin Netanyahu, Yair Lapid, and Naftali Bennett. Provided by usnews.com, ft.com, and jfjfp.com.
Whether or not Netanyahu is replaced, it is highly likely that the scandal will alter Israel’s foreign relations policy. Israel is one of the most important countries in the current geopolitical landscapes. It has functioned as one of the few allies of the United States (U.S.) regarding issues in the Middle East. Most importantly, it is involved in the IsraelPalestine conflict, a long-lasting religious and ethnic conflict for which peace negotiations have stalled since 2013. Israel under Netanyahu, a right-wing politician, has constantly staked its claim to Jerusalem through the construction of residences there.
Netanyahu has gradually strengthened his strict stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict. He continuously approves the construction of thousands of residences in Jerusalem every few days, especially after the pro-Israel Donald Trump became the U.S. President. Meanwhile, he is also carefully approaching the conflict instead of enforcing radical decisions to divert the public’s attention away from his corruption. For instance, on January 23, his administration postponed a vote on the annexation of a territory in the West Bank until February. However, conditions will change if he resigns. “Of the major candidates, centrist Lapid will be more opened to negotiation, while Bennett will react even more strictly,” explained Dr. Sung.
▲ Netanyahu in a serious conversation with former President Obama. Provided by thestar. com
Regarding the relationship between Israel and the U.S., former U.S. President Barack Obama frequently criticized Israel’s settlements, but Trump has repeatedly expressed support for Israel. Therefore, if Netanyahu remains in office, he will definitely maintain and bolster the amicable relationship with the Trump administration. If Netanyahu is replaced, Bennett will have no problem coping with Trump as they both tend towards conservatism. However, if Lapid becomes the new Prime Minister, his moderate policies may collide with Trump’s hard line measures. However, “in spite of small collisions, the alliance, even under Lapid, will continue, since there is no practical reason for Israel to antagonize the U.S.,” added Dr. Sung.
▲ Netanyahu smiling with President Trump. Provided by nbcnews.com.
Comparison with Korea
Korean politics is also facing a similar issue. In October 2016, the media first reported that Choi Soon-sil, a close individual of President Park Geun-hye, had modified President Park’s speech, which marked the start of Choi Soon-sil Gate. Both are similar in that third parties interfered in political affairs and obtained unfair advantages. However, the scale of the scandal is much larger in Korea than in Israel. Netanyahu’s corruption is mostly centered on his private interests through bribery. However, in Korea, the entire government, including policy decisions and personnel management, was manipulated by an individual, with a large number of confidential documents disclosed to outsiders.
The independence of the police is what Korea should learn from Israel. In Israel, the police keeps its distance from political authority to enable transparent and intensive investigation whenever corruption occurs. “While Netanyahu was the one who appointed Mandelblit as the Attorney General, Mandelblit decided to publicize the case under the conviction that it should not be overlooked,” explained Dr. Sung. Furthermore, a social consensus that nobody should be an exception of police investigation also exists in Israel. As a result, Netanyahu has already cooperated with the investigation twice, whereas President Park has continuously avoided and delayed her interrogation.
Israeli politics also has systematic limitations that should be resolved to prevent the recurrence of bribery. While bribery originates from an individual’s lack of morality, the problem is that there is no alternative for Israelis to vote for. The last left-wing Prime Minister was Ehud Barak, who served until 2001. This demonstrates that politics has been dominated by conservatives for 16 years, leaving the public with no option when politicians were found to be corrupt. Therefore, the formation of two-party politics with competent leftist parties will be crucial for Israel to eliminate corruption and such authorities. Thus, Korea, where relatively powerful leftist politicians have led the impeachment of President Park, would be a good reference for Israel.
Even though the direction in which Israeli politics is heading remains in question, it is indisputable that there will be some changes that will influence international politics. In spite of its organizational weaknesses, Israel also serves as a good example of how a society should react to corruption. Since it can be a useful precedent for Korea to consult, the future of Netanyahu and his scandal should be observed with keen interest and attention.
▲ Israeli residence in Jerusalem. Provided by bradtv.co.kr.