Israel seen as increasingly corrupt for fourth year in a row, index finds

Transparency International watchdog finds Jewish state falling closer to ‘red line’ below which countries are considered to have a high level of corruption

An Israeli woman carries a sign as Left-wing and Right-wing demonstrators are separated by police during protests in support and against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on March 02, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
An Israeli woman carries a sign as Left-wing and Right-wing demonstrators are separated by police during protests in support and against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on March 02, 2019. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Israel remained mediocre 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 the same as in 2019’s survey, and a point down from 2018’s. In 2017 it scored 62, which was a two-point drop from 2016.

While Israel was among the least corrupt countries in the Middle East, it placed 35th globally, and 25th out of 37 OECD nations.

Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 global info-graphic (Transparency International)

In the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates (21st globally, with 71 points) and Qatar (30th, with 63 points) were found to be the least corrupt, with Israel third.

The results mean 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, “Israel’s low ranking in the corruption index is especially severe in 2020 when the coronavirus is raging on.” She pointed to the “lack of trust and lack of cooperation” from the public during the health and economic crisis.

Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 Middle-East info-graphic (Transparency International)

During the initial outbreak of the virus in the spring, unemployment figures issued by the Employment Service spiked as 800,000 people quickly lost work in Israel’s initial lockdown. They have since fluctuated as the country has moved in and out of restrictions and closures.

Israel’s death toll reached 4,609 on Thursday. More than one-quarter of the country’s total COVID-19 deaths since the start of the pandemic have been registered this month alone.

Arad said, “All this, while we witness the violation of the foundations of democracy, in circumstances where leaders are suspected of crimes, in an atmosphere of ongoing incitement against the gatekeepers of the judiciary, and the media who are forced to do their job faithfully in an evil atmosphere of extremism and sectarianism.”

In 2019 Israel saw a serving 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 repeated efforts to delay the court hearings, most recently securing a delay in a session scheduled for January 13 that was put off until February 8 due to a national lockdown ordered to curb the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his lawyer Micah Fetman (L) at the Jerusalem District Court for the start of his trial on corruption charges, May 24, 2020. (Amit Shabi/Pool/Flash90)

In addition, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who already did a stint in prison for a graft conviction, will have new criminal charges filed against him by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.

Anti-Netanyahu protesters, rallying weekly for over six months, call for Netanyahu’s resignation over his indictment on graft charges and handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Netanyahu’s corruption cases have also played a key role in hampering the formation of a government coalition in 2019, leading to three successive elections, with a fourth to take place in March after the power-sharing government of Likud and Blue and White failed to agree on a budget by a December 23, 2020, deadline.

More than two-thirds of the 180 countries in the study 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 88 points each, followed by Finland with 85 points.

Bottom place went to Somalia and South Sudan, with just 12 points each. Syria, Yemen and Venezuela finished next.

The average score for all countries remained the same as in the last report, at 43 points.

The United States’ score of 67 was two points lower than a year earlier and its worst in eight years, Transparency International said. The US was ranked 25th, a two-place drop from last year.

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