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The perks of being a 'member of the club'

How corrupt politicians take care of their own

Knesset Member Aryeh Deri seen outside his home in Jerusalem, Jan. 22, 2023. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Being rewarded for loyal support is an age-old concept used by many, but, for politicians, it’s become a perfected art form with massive perks for card-carrying members.

Take the case of Shas party leader, Aryeh Deri, the same corrupt politician who was prevented from, yet again, serving, in this current government coalition, in his years-old former capacity as head of the Interior Ministry and, this time, also health minister. Deemed by the High Court, as being unreasonable to continue serving in government, since he’s been twice-convicted, he was forced to step down, something to which he previously agreed, under the terms of a plea bargain he made. 

Nonetheless, it didn’t stop him from initiating a voucher plan, wherein a monthly sum of ILS 2,400 (about $630) would be granted to large families. Given the fact that an estimated 16% of Israeli families are unable to provide adequate food for their households, as well as 21% who live under the poverty line, such a program may have come as a welcomed rescue. So, it sounds good, right?

The problem is that a study was conducted by an independent, non-partisan research institute (Jerusalem’s Taub Center for Social Policy Studies) whose findings revealed that there was “a substantial gap between the number of families that received food vouchers and the number living below the poverty line. In Arab localities, primarily Bedouin, there was a large negative gap, while in Haredi communities, there was a positive gap, meaning that there were more families receiving food vouchers than there were living below the poverty line in these areas.”

Those findings led one of the institute's researchers to claim that this “raises a suspicion of clientelism – an allocation of public resources by politicians aimed at increasing political support.”

And there it is – you support our party, and we’ll make sure you’re well-fed!

In truth, it didn’t take this study to arrive at those conclusions.  It’s been a well-known fact that the religious sector seeks to take care of its own, but, in this case, the Shas’ voucher plan cannot be solely classified as yet another humanitarian distribution center that is attempting to alleviate hunger. There are many such organizations in Israel that organize soup kitchens or other distribution centers for the needy. In fact, some of them are run by Christian Zionist organizations which do so out of their desire to bless the poor of Israel.

The issue here is that the voucher program was represented as a plan to alleviate the inability of poor families to be able to provide enough food, each month, for their children. Such a program, if it was fair and equitable, would be extended to all segments of the population who struggle with this challenge. The scandal here is that it wasn’t. It was directed to one particular group, and they ended up being Haredi supporters of the Shas party. Not only that, but, according to the findings, people within that segment of the population were receiving these vouchers irrespective of their financial needs. 

This program is actually a repeat of an earlier one that had been administered during the COVID-19 pandemic when the distribution of food vouchers also took place under the auspices of the Interior Ministry. Once again, in that instance, a negative gap was discovered “between the share of families receiving assistance and the share of families living below the poverty line. The largest gap was found in the Bedouin localities and was close to 28%.” True to form, in the Haredi community, more families were receiving the vouchers than eligible.

Does any of this sound like the old adage of 'the fox guarding the hen house?' 

In both cases, Shas held itself up as a protector of the poor, ensuring the public that they were a trusted and reliable source to oversee a food distribution program that would benefit Israel’s poor. In reality, all they did was to make sure that their supporters were rewarded while those who didn’t vote for them languished. 

Could anything be more heartless? But then, this is the dirty and corrupt world of politics which sends the message loud and clear: “Do for us, and we’ll do for you.” Does anyone wonder why people are so cynical about politicians and their lack of integrity?  

Oddly enough, when speaking about the phenomenon of “clientelism,” it’s not clear which came first. Were the people who voted for the party subsequently rewarded after having done so or were the people first rewarded in order to get a preview of how their life situation would improve if they continue to support the party? Either way, there is evidence of a callous disregard for the plight of others who also go to bed hungry but, in their case, help is not forthcoming simply because they are not a “member of the club.” 

The idea of a program being managed and run by the Interior Ministry, a government agency that is supposed to benefit all of its citizens regardless of party affiliation, is madness and should not be allowed to ever happen. The fact that the head of such an agency, or his surrogates who take their orders from him whether he’s physically present there or not, is an unconscionable action that smacks of favoritism, inequitable use of public funds and nothing short of the usual political corruption which stinks to high heaven.

Israel needs to be better than that! We are in desperate need of honest, even-handed leaders who are capable of rendering just and fair treatment to all, because we owe that to one another, both as fellow Jews and fellow humans. It not only demands a conscience from our leaders but, first and foremost, from those of us who elect them, because if we choose these people based on what they can do for only one sector of Israeli society, then we are actually facilitating this type of corruption.  

They say people get the government that they deserve, and if that’s true, then the people have only to look in the mirror to see what they have created because corrupt leaders generally get into power when their electorate already knows what they’re capable of but don't care.

A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.

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