Israel reaches worst score ever in annual corruption index

Israel ranks 29th out of 37 OECD countries; watchdog head: ‘corruption phenomenon in Israel strengthening’; study published same day ex-minister pleads guilty to tax offenses

Protesters demonstrate outside the corruption trial of then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, February 8, 2021. (EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)
Protesters demonstrate outside the corruption trial of then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, February 8, 2021. (EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)

An anti-corruption watchdog on Tuesday gave Israel its worst-ever score in a global ranking of how countries tackle government graft.

Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index, which measures the perception of public sector corruption according to experts and businesspeople, gave Israel a score of 59 out of 100. It received a score of 60 in 2020, and scored 64 in 2016.

The highest scores are awarded to countries adjudged to have the lowest level of corruption.

Israel is ranked 36th out of 180 countries in the 2021 report, after ranking 28th five years ago. Among 37 OECD countries, Israel is ranked 29th, dropping four places compared to the 2020 report.

The grades, the organization says, are derived from each country’s “perceived levels of public sector corruption according to experts and businesspeople,” based on data collected from 13 organizations, including the World Bank, the World Economic Forum and Freedom House.

Transparency International did not provide any details on its reason for the grade it gave to Israel or just about any country surveyed, and it did not include Israel among the countries listed in its “Middle East & North Africa” division, or in any other regional breakdown.

Israelis protest against government corruption and for democracy, outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, May 3, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Nili Arad, the chairwoman of Transparency International Israel, said this year’s index indicates that “corruption in Israel is strengthening.”

She said the increase was particularly worrying in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, “when an extra measure of transparency is needed as protection against damaging the foundations of democracy.”

Israel’s low ranking is a “warning sign” signaling the potential of a move toward becoming a corrupt state, she added.

In 2019, a serving Israeli prime minister was indicted for the first time, on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Benjamin Netanyahu, now opposition chairman, has denied the allegations against him, and his trial is expected to drag into 2022 as plea bargain negotiations fell apart earlier this week.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement before entering a courtroom at the Jerusalem District Court on May 24, 2020, for the start of his corruption trial. Alongside him from left are Likud MKs and ministers including Amir Ohana, Miri Regev, Nir Barkat, Israel Katz, Tzachi Hanegbi and Yoav Gallant. (Yonathan Sindel/Flash90)

On the same day that Transparency International published its 2021 index, Shas party leader and former minister Aryeh Deri pleaded guilt to tax offenses at the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors that also saw him resign from the Knesset.

Opposition MKs Yaakov Litzman, David Bitan and Haim Katz are also each facing possible indictments for various graft offenses they committed during their careers in public service.

The current coalition has also just ordered a state commission of inquiry into the purchases of submarines and other naval vessels under previous governments led by Netanyahu.

The top-ranked countries in the world — i.e., the least corrupt — were Denmark, Finland and New Zealand, which all achieved a score of 88. Lowest on the list were Somalia and Syria, in joint 178th place, each with 13, and South Sudan with 11, in 180th place. Iran was in 150th place and Lebanon in 154th.

Israel is among 27 countries — including Australia, Canada, Cyprus, Lebanon and Honduras — that reached a historic low in their individual rankings this year.

At 59, Israel is still among the highest-scoring countries in the region, compared to Jordan (49), Lebanon (24) and Egypt (33).

Former MK Aryeh Deri, leader of the Shas party, arrives for a hearing at the Jerusalem Magistrates’ Court on January 25, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Overall, most countries have made little to no progress in bringing down corruption levels over the past decade, and authorities’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic in many places has weighed on accountability, the closely watched study found.

In a press release explaining the report, Transparency International said “increasingly, rights and checks and balances are being undermined not only in countries with systemic corruption and weak institutions but also among established democracies.”

Among other global issues it cited over the past year, the report highlighted the use of the Israeli NSO Group’s Pegasus software, which has been linked to snooping on human rights activists, journalists and politicians across the globe.

The report said the pandemic has “been used in many countries as an excuse to curtail basic freedoms and sidestep important checks and balances.”

The United States, which slipped over recent years to hit 67 points in 2020, held that score this time but fell a couple of places to 27th. Transparency said it had dropped out of the top 25 for the first time “as it faces continuous attacks on free and fair elections and an opaque campaign finance system.” The United Kingdom ranked in 11 place.

AP contributed to this report

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