JERUSALEM (May. 19)
A scathing annual report by the State Comptroller, pointing to improprieties and possible corruption in a government ministry, has unleashed a storm of political controversy in Israel this week.
Anger among Israel’s opposition parties was heightened Thursday, when it became clear that police inquiries into the alleged corruption were focused on the period before July 1992, when the previous Likud government was in power.
State Comptroller Miriam Ben-Porat, a former High Court justice, termed her findings in this year’s report “serious.”
She declined, however, to characterize the performance of the present government, saying she and her office were concerned with the quality of public administration, regardless of which party was in office at any particular time.
A key section of her report, issued Wednesday, points accusatory fingers at the present housing minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, and his director-general, Aryeh Mizrachi. Both men are leading figures in the ruling Labor Party.
According to the report, the minister funneled funds to local authorities in accordance with the political stripe of the particular mayor, rather than taking steps in accordance with objective criteria.
Ben-Eliezer and Mizrachi deny any wrongdoing.
Likud officials called repeatedly on Wednesday and Thursday for the government to resign in the wake of the report.
Likud spokesmen recalled that the Labor Party’s 1992 campaign had dwelt on alleged government corruption — and now the comptroller was clearly implying that the Labor government itself was guilty of the same behavior.
Inside Labor, too, there was voluble discomfort, with Knesset member Hagai Meirom demanding stern action against anyone found to have acted improperly.
A Likud spokesman blasted Attorney General Michael Ben-Yair on Thursday night when it became clear that Ben-Yair had instructed the police to investigate only the comptroller’s findings regarding a local authority run by the fervently Orthodox in the West Bank town of Emmanuel. The alleged malfeasance took place before Labor came to power.
The Likud spokesman explicitly accused Ben-Yair of acting out of political motives and favoring Labor. It was not clear, however, whether the attorney general had decided that other alleged instances of wrongdoing uncovered by the comptroller were not to be investigated by the police — or whether in fact he would instruct such investigations to be opened in the weeks ahead.