Exactly 26 years ago, the country was mired in a political scandal involving wheeling and dealing between the heads of the Shas and Labor Parties, who attempted to fell the government in a complicated and ultimately unsuccessful move recalled as the Stinking (literally smelly) Maneuver.
Today, the heads of the parties find themselves once again embroiled in a scandal that smells no less rotten, with the news that Shas head Aryeh Deri (the same who initially made a pact with then-Labor head Shimon Peres) and current Labor/Zionist Union head and opposition leader Isaac Herzog (son of Chaim Herzog, who as president played kingmaker in the whole affair) are being investigated in separate corruption scandals.
And the press is about as shocked as can be in a climate where investigations against high-level politicians are about as rare as an opinionated Israeli pundit.
It’s not 1990 that much of the press is looking at though, but the more salient and historically parallel 1999, when both Deri and Herzog were facing trouble for similar offenses (albeit without a catchy name for the affairs), and the papers are rife with references to the past repeating itself with two more unlinked cases snagging the same players.
In that instance, Deri was forced to resign, bringing the coalition to the brink, and Herzog kept his mouth shut as a somewhat minor player in a larger probe involving fundraising for then-prime minister Ehud Barak.
As Sima Kadmon puts it in a Yedioth Ahronoth column, “Sometimes it seems like our country just works in cycles. Like a giant Ferris wheel, which after one big orbit emits the same people that were on it on just a little while before, that’s how our political system works, that after a few years has the same people, the same suspicions, the same police probes. We were up, we were down, around and around and hey, here we are again, after 17 years, Interior Minister Deri and Zionist Union head Herzog. One being investigated by the police for bribery, the other by the cops and tax authority for breaking campaign finance laws.”
The news that there is double trouble at the top of Israel’s political system is actually a couple of days old, after Channel 2 reported Tuesday night that two politicians were being probed and Deri rushed to have his name published just after midnight Wednesday morning, allowing some Wednesday editions to include him as the face of the corruption scandal. Now the man who was once the highest ever-level Israeli politician to serve jail time for graft is joined by Herzog, who is suspected of illegally receiving donations in his campaign to oust Shelly Yachimovich from the party’s leadership.
It’s that linkage with Deri, the hardened convict, that Haaretz’s Yossi Verter thinks will get under Herzog’s skin most.
“What bothered Herzog more than the revelations that he was under examination was his being linked in the media with the other subject of examination. In Thursday’s papers he will be featured alongside Deri as the corrupt politicians of the hour, an alliance of the examined,” he writes.
Deri cow and the binding of Isaac
Indeed, in all three major dailies the two are pictured side by side. Yet most of the coverage seems to focus on Deri and the somewhat more serious and sexier allegations of financial wrongdoing surrounding several properties belonging to him, including some nice looking digs on a moshav in the north.
Israel Hayom is sure to contrast his supposed persona as an “invisible” man of the people with the ritzy home, and Yedioth dubs his holdings a “real estate empire,” rattling off his family’s portfolio like a script of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”
“The Deri couple lives in an apartment on Hakablan Street in Jerusalem with three stories and 272 square meters. Along with that, the family has collected over the years many properties around the country. Among them: A new two-story building with five apartments in Givat Shaul in Jerusalem … worth about NIS 15 million,” the paper reports. “An investigation over the last months turned up more properties belonging to the family. One daughter has an apartment in Jerusalem and owns a third of another home in Tel Aviv. Another daughter has under her name three apartments in Tel Aviv’s Hatikvah neighborhood and another half apartment elsewhere in the city. That’s not all: a third daughter has an apartment near Tel Aviv and a house near Jerusalem. … Yet the pearl in the Deri family holdings is a vacation home is Safsufa in the Galilee. … Once in a while the Deris visit the two-story home, which includes two pools (one for adults and one for kids).”
Israel Hayom, however, focuses much of its coverage on Herzog, touting the fact that it was the first to report on the suspicions against Herzog last year. The paper reprints part of its original story including a receipt allegedly showing that a nursing company that Herzog helped while he was welfare minister paid him back in kind by giving NIS 40,000 to a political operative to run a negative campaign against Yachimovich in the race for the party leadership.
Since that original report, the paper notes, suspicions have grown. “After the publication there have been testimonies from several former officials within the Labor party, from the owners of the same nursing company that seemingly helped Herzog’s negative campaign, and even from several Herzog associates. It was learned that a month ago specific information came to the police tying Herzog to the suspicions against him,” the paper reports.
In his typically rambling style, columnist Dan Margalit writes in the tabloid that even though the probes against both are in the early stages, it could still affect their political positions, especially Herzog’s.
“The offenses he’s being investigated for occurred during the last primary between him and Yachimovich. If it seems the two have laid down their arms against each other, perhaps it’s because of the possibility that Netanyahu will soon call on them to join the coalition, and then the matter of the investigation will be used as a reminder to pour bad blood on the veins of their party,” he writes cryptically. “Herzog and Deri weakened for a while will strengthen Netanyahu, who is trying to steer a coalition of 61 MKs including a few chronic Likud rebels. There’s nothing like a criminal investigation to strengthen the home. It’s true Deri and Herzog have called for a quick clarification on the suspicions against them, but it will be a long way until the case is closed.”