Israel slipped slightly in a global corruption ranking released Thursday, joining other industrialized nations seen as falling behind in the fight against graft.
Israel placed 35th internationally out of 180 countries in the annual Corruption Perceptions Index survey released by the watchdog group Transparency International, which measures perceived public-sector corruption. On its scale,100 is very clean and zero is very corrupt.
Israel’s score, 60, was a point down from 2018’s survey. In 2017 it got 62 points, a two-point drop from 2016.
Israel over the past year saw a sitting prime minister charged for the first time, with bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Benjamin Netanyahu has denied the charges and is currently in the midst of a battle for Knesset immunity before an official indictment is filed.
In addition, two ministers in his cabinet are facing possible charges, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who already did a stint in prison for a graft conviction, and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman. Another minister, Haim Katz, had to step down after being charged, and Likud MK David Bitan, also under investigation, withdrew his candidacy to be appointed minister last week.
On Wednesday, an aide to a minister was questioned on corruption suspicions, according to Hebrew-language reports.
While Israel was among the least corrupt countries in the Middle East, it placed 35th globally, and 24th out of 36 OECD nations.
In the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates (21st globally, with 71 points) and Qatar (30th, with 62 points) were found to be the least corrupt, with Israel third.
The survey means Israel is falling closer to the “red line” of 50 points, below which countries are defined by the index has having “a high level of corruption,” Transparency International’s Israel chapter said in a statement.
Former judge Nili Arad, who chairs Transparency’s local chapter, said that while “Israel is not a corrupt country” citizens and residents are experiencing “no easy days,” referring to Netanyahu’s graft cases and his campaign against prosecutors.
“Regrettably, we are exposed to… sectarianism and extremism, and increasing mistrust of institutions that underpin Israeli democracy,” she said.
As part of his fight for support, Netanyahu has painted the law enforcement and judicial systems as corrupt and politically biased, which expert warn has led to decreasing levels of public trust in those institutions.
Netanyahu’s corruption cases have also played a key role in hampering the formation of a government coalition, leading to three successive elections, the third of which will take place in March.
More than two-thirds of the 180 countries in the study (70%) scored below 50, on a scale from 0 (perceived to be highly corrupt) to 100. The report surveys countries based on local and international experts’ opinions of public sector corruption.
Denmark and New Zealand topped the chart with 87 points each, followed by Finland with 86 points.
Bottom place again went to Somalia, with just nine points. South Sudan, Syria and Yemen finished above it, behind a group of countries sharing 173rd place that included Afghanistan and Venezuela.
The average score for all countries remained the same as the last report, at 43 points.
The United States’ score of 69 was two points lower than a year earlier and its worst score in eight years, Transparency International said. The US was ranked 23rd, a one-place drop from last year.