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Shame Shame

Starving children, constant rioting, what’s next? What COULD be next? Jerusalem’s haredi neighborhood has found another way to offend their comrades…who they refuse to admit as being such.

Private investigators of the Education Ministry have revealed that several ultra-orthodox schools in the holy city have enrolled students who are probably fictitious.

The Education Ministry of the State of Israel provides elementary schools an annual sum of NIS 6,000 (about $1,597) per student. An inquiry showed that Haredi schools in Jerusalem were registering children affiliated with the Eda Haredit, who do not acknowledge the State of Israel and whose children do not attend its establishments. Altogether millions of shekels have been stolen from the government.

The Eda Haredit admitted that they may know something of the phenomenon but refused to cooperate with Israeli investigators.

“We are not interested in dealing with the State of Israel’s losses…it’s not our problem. We solve our problems in our courts.”

Satmar KinderlachThe Eda Haredit are the ones, by the way, who have refused to accept Intel’s compromise about keeping their Jerusalem factory open on Shabbat but not employing Jewish workers and are therefore responsible for embarrassing dangerous and needless demonstrations – just don’t torch any parked cars you guys!

If there was once a portion of the hard-working Israeli soul which felt guilty for being less religiously observant than the Haredim or for showing up in the holy land at a later era, these sentiments may be put to rest. When the State’s religious core has become almost the greatest example of vanishing morals in the entire country, we may as well reassert our values and our hearts.

Trouble in Kadima

I attended a political event a few months ago where the speaker stated emphatically, and what may be construed as presumptuously, that if anybody wants to make a difference in Israel politically, there are only two parties to join. One is Likud, and the other is Labor. Anticipating the question, he immediately addressed the subject of Kadima, which, he said, would slip out of existence in the coming years.

I wasn’t sure if I believed him or not. I simply preferred to sit back and see if he was right. Well, two pieces of news came out today that are inching in that direction.

MollaFirst, is a story you’ve probably heard before. A Knesset Member pocketing campaign donations, and even charity donations, from US organizations. Well, who doesn’t these days? Or otherwise misuse earmarked funds for some such thing – apartment renovations (Dalia Itzik, former Knesset Speaker), inordinate travel expenditures, whatever. The case here is that of Kadima MK Shlomo Molla, who, sadly, is the only Ethiopian parliamentarian in the Knesset today. As such, I hate to see him get himself into this mess, because the Ethiopian community really needs strengthening, and doesn’t need its representative embroiled in scandals. But what’s done is done, allegedly of course.

Here’s the scoop. Molla was first caught lying about a BA he received from Bar Ilan University, when in fact he never finished the degree. While that’s annoying, it’s not exactly horrible scandalous. But now, he is accused of pocketing money from private organizations that supported his campaign. Instead of using the money for the campaign, he bought presents for his family. Well, you could argue that he would have used his own money, which would now have been dedicated to the campaign, but you can’t really prove that.

He also took a $17,000 donation from a Jews for Jesus group, who gave him the money on condition that $10,000 would go towards the needs of the Ethiopian community in Israel. Allegedly, the money was transferred to his personal savings account instead. A source close to Molla said that he kept saying that “…it was not important, that the money only came from Jews for Jesus and not from real Jews,” and that “He tried to make them sound ugly so that no one would care about what happened to the money.”

On a more holistic Kadima front, the editor-in-chief of the party’s website, Amir Segal, wrote an op-ed piece on the site. It was about Kadima head and opposition leader Tzipi Livni. “The de-legitimization Livni is suffering from is not just her private problem,” he wrote. “It radiates onto the entire party. More and more Knesset Members and central activists feel comfortable challenging, criticizing or showing contempt for their chairwoman.”

So we’ll see what happens there. ‘Tis hard to tell whether Kadima will survive, or split. Maybe they will, maybe not. And maybe Labor will come shooting back if Kadima trips. Or maybe the Messiah will come in the meantime or something. I give him 10 minutes.

Gilad Shalit II? Close Call…

BadriHere’s the quick scoop. Cab driver Dudu Badri picked up a guy in Beit Shemesh, who then forced him at knife point to drive to a Palestinian village. He was then beaten by three men who stole his cab. Fortunately, they did not steal him.

“I was sure I was going to be Gilad Shalit two,” he told the press yesterday. Of the passenger, he said “He didn’t look Arab at all. “He looked like a regular teen from Beit Shemesh. He asked, without an accent, how much it would cost to get to Jerusalem’s center.”

Somewhere in the middle of the drive, he took out a knife and told Badri that if he didn’t do what he wanted, he’d murder him and run.

Badri was then directed to Beit Hanina, an Arab village in East Jerusalem, told to drive into a dark alley and leave the taxi. He refused, and then was beaten by three men.

“I was sure they wanted to take me into one of the homes and kill me. I didn’t realize they wanted the cab,” he said. He then ran to the main road and managed to flag down a civilian. He was driven to the nearest police station.

You never know how close you come to another international incident. I don’t even want to think about it.

The question is, what can we do about phenomena like this? There may not be anything we can do, aside from maybe silent alarms on all cabs. Don’t they already have that? I think it’s called LoJack.

You know…I think I just got that. It’s the opposite of Hijack. LoJack Hijack. HA! Great stuff. Now get them on the cabs. And maybe all the cars that pick up hitchhikers.

Avigdor Lieberman’s Back in the News

About to be indicted for money laundering and bribery, Avigdor Lieberman has finally made a headline once again. Believed to be keeping a low profile, spending time in Africa while Barak and Bibi talk to the Americans about Iran, he decided to make another one of his comments about the peace process. According Israel’s foreign minister, there’s no chance of ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for many years.

Avigdor LiebermanI have a hard time figuring out why statements such as these make headlines at all. Isn’t that what everyone says in the street all the time? The only thing special is that Lieberman is the only government official who says it out loud, and he seemingly represents the State. Everyone else wants to sound diplomatic. It is Israel’s top diplomat, however, that doesn’t really care about diplomacy all that much.

Going a bit deeper, Lieberman says it’s unrealistic to think a long-term agreement can be reached at this time and that whoever thinks an agreement can be reached soon just doesn’t understand the situation. Instead, he wants interim agreements that will keep the situation calm until such a time as a permanent agreement can be reached.

To me, this is just more of the same. What’s the difference between a permanent agreement and a temporary agreement? For both of them, you need both sides to agree to something. And that’s what’s proven so impossible these years. So why would temporary work better than permanent? This I fail to understand.

“What is possible to reach is a long-term intermediate agreement … that leaves the tough issues for a much later stage.” He failed to elaborate, as politicians often do.

Does anyone ever think of the possibility of no agreement? After all, this is the direction Israel has been going in lately. The disengagement was one form of that, as it was unilateral. Argue about the direction taken in that unilateral decision one may, but it seems we are on the course of imposing some sort of solution rather than signing more papers.

It’s just a question of what the next unilateral move by Israel will be and who will make it. Oh, it won’t be Lieberman. He’ll probably be in prison or some such place.

IDF Chief of Staff Credit Card and Rifle Stolen

Gabi AshkenaziHow’s this for an oops story. A soldier on guard duty just roamed into IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi’s office, stole his credit card numbers, and gave them to an Israeli Arab he happened to own money to. While he was at it, he stole a souvenir pistol given to Ashkenazi as a gift by an American general.

The soldier in question had also stolen two M16 rifles in the past, one from a soldier who was attacked on guard duty in July, and it appears that he took up theft in order to pay for an apartment he moved into with his girlfriend.

Gaining access to the top IDF officer’s office and stealing his credit card so easily? This has the IDF breathing a rather sizeable sigh of relief that it was only a credit card, because the army can think of lots of people who would love to get in there and put a microphone under his desk, or even a bomb. That wouldn’t be so good.

Talk about something to starkly contrast with the image of Israel as a security mammoth, El Al guards stopping you at every security level for a flight, asking you weird questions about where you’re going and why, if you know Hebrew, what synagogue you go to and such. And suddenly some guy can just walk into the office of the IDF chief of staff, open up his drawer and swipe his credit card info and a souvenir Western pistol? Well, alright then, if you insist.

The soldiers standing guard in the hallway apparently did not have any intensive background checks before they were accepted to duty, something that will now quickly be changed. Locks have been changed. Well, that’ll make me sleep better tonight, knowing the locks are nice and fresh, and the guy in charge of the next big war has a new credit card.

Bernie Madoff To Be Released in 2159

Bernie Madoff New YorkPonzi scheme artist and former NASDAQ head Bernie Madoff was sentenced Monday, June 29 to 150 years in prison for his role in defrauding thousands of people out of more than $65 billion during a more than 20 year period. The 72 year former Wall Street guru, had a sort of ironic look on his face, according to witnesses, as he was led into the NYC Federal Courthouse at 7 a.m. local time. So much public interest had resulted in a special barrier set up in front of the building, most likely to keep many of Madoff’s victims from having a go at him after he bilked many of them of their life’s savings. One small woman, who watched him go by, said he had taken all she had and that she planned to write a book about it. “I have lost everything”, the small blond woman said.

Those inside the courtroom said that Madoff seemed to even display an ironic smile as the sentence was read off to him by a female Federal Judge. Madoff’s attorney, in possibly a last ditched effort to receive some clemency for his client, told the court that Madoff’s wife “spent her own money to provide security for her husband while he was awaiting trial. That remark resulted in a momentary burst of laughter from the packed courtroom, due to its irony.

As Madoff was led away, most likely never to leave the prison where he will be confined, many people gave comments like: “it wasn’t enough – the money is still gone – my money is gone!”

Later on, Madoff’s wife Ruth finally broke the silence she had imposed on herself by issuing a statement in that she was not indifferent to what her husband did, and that “not a day goes by that my does not ache over stories I have read of people who lost so much”. That doesn’t appear to go far enough to placate her husband’s victims, many of whom are now virtually destitute as a result of Madoff’s actions. This also includes a number of high profile non-profit foundations, some of whom will have to close their doors due to lack of funds. Ruth Madoff was allowed to keep a sum of around 2.5 million dollars, in a cooperation agreement her husband made with Federal authorities. That amount may later be challenged, however, due to a number of further claims against the former financier.

Putting Madoff away forever isn’t going to bring back most of the money he stole, and lucky claimants may see a 5% return on their original investment. It might have been a better punishment for Madoff (and perhaps his entire family, including two sons and a daughter) to have literally stripped them of all assets, reducing them to the lowest level of penury. Seeing the former ponzi wheeler-dealer residing in a homeless shelter (if one might be found that was willing to accommodate him) might have been a better fate than sending him off to a federal prison where he will be fed, clothed, and attended to medically at the taxpayers’ expense.

Ganavim Get Sentenced: Hirschson & Benizri To Do Time

“We have to clean and sweep not under but over the carpet”, says retired Supreme Court Judge Miriam Ben-Porat on the decisions that sent Hirschson and Benizri into incarceration. Former Tel Aviv District Attorney objects: The punishment for the former Treasury Minister is too lenient, and does not get the message across.

Avraham Hirschson - 5 + Years In The Big HouseIn one day, two former Israeli government ministers are being sent to jail: Avraham Hirschson was handed down a sentence of five years and five months. Shlomo Benizri received a harsher sentence of 4 years in prison. In a conversation with Ynet, legislators fighting against corruption approve of the sentence, but there are some who claim that it should have been stiffer. Former State Comptroller, retired Supreme Court Judge Miriam Ben-Porat wonders: “Who knows how many more Hirschsons there are?

Ben Porat expressed satisfaction with the legal decisions:

“It’s good that punishment is meted out and we show that everyone is equal. Someone with a senior position should have to pay even more. Hirschson was trusted with Treasury funds and engaged in transactions for the entire country. He should have been purer than pure. It is unfortunate, he gave at least an outward impression of a man who cares, who fights for Holocaust survivors”.

She states that corruption “should be cleaned and swept – not under but over the carpet, and that’s what we’re doing now. It is difficult to know how many did not receive the punishments they deserve, because you can only conduct legal proceedings when there is evidence. Just bringing someone to trial is already a deterrent. There is still a great deal of work to be done, but matters are being dealt with as they should – with the necessary severity – and I welcome that, states Ben-Porat.

Judge Bracha Ofir-Tom referred at length to the corruption issues in Hirschson’s verdict and expressed surprise that “the same image of a good man and benefactor could turn into the image of someone who steals public funds together with his subordinates to support “the good life” he and they have become accustomed to as a lifestyle. Was it just drunken power that changed the accused’s view of the the world? Or was it unlimited greed combined with the atmosphere of neglect that took over the organization whose actions no one any longer oversaw?”

At the comptroller’s office it is said that “today the Court clearly expressed the importance of the struggle against public corruption. The comptroller’s office, which has been spearheading the Hirschson scandal from its very first stages, will continue in the struggle against public corruption, and for morality in the country, not excluding those at the top of the pyramid and including all enforcement officials. The comptroller’s office has proclaimed its views more than once, that only a process of proper investigation, followed by legal trial and severe punishment – all immediately following commitment of the crime – will help to cleanse society from the corruption that has affected it.

Retired judge Dalia Dorner is satisfied by “the appropriate legal rulings”, and believes that “they deserve retribution, not in terms of revenge, but in terms of public denunciation of acts of this kind. Fraud and theft have been with us from biblical times, but when it involves public figures, the punishment should be severe. Denunciation is most important and therefore you must take into account that a light punishment may suggest that the crime wasn’t really that bad. God help us if we broadcast that kind of message”.

In the Hirschson case, prosecution demanded a sentence of at least 7 years incarceration for the Treasury minister, who was convicted of stealing milllions, but the judge ruled a lesser sentence. The State has not yet announced whether or not it will appeal. However, then senior prosecutor in the Tel Aviv District Attorney’s office, Adv. Miriam Rosenthal, claims that that are good reasons for this: “He did not express his regret, and the difference between his sentence and the others’ is too slight,” she stated to Ynet.

“The District Court gave heavy consideration to Hirschonson’s personal circumstances,” Rosenthal added. “The punishment is fairly lenient, particularly when the other defendants, who confessed in a plea bargaining and did not waste the Court’s time – and did not spend the funds as Hirschson did, received sentences of up to five years. An extra six months is a light addition.”

When he harshened Ben Izri’s sentence, one of the Supreme Court Judges, Edmond Levy, wrote: “The rising corruption among Israeli governing authorities necessitates the action of setting a higher price…to cope with this affliction and to deter others. Words of admonishment are no longer enough. It’s time to take action.”

Adv. Rosenthal agrees that the punishment in the Ben Izri case is meant to deter – as punishments up to now have not been sufficent. “Ben Izri is not a victim,” she stresses. Despite this, there wasn’t enough in Hirschson’s conviction to get a message across.

And what’s next? Rosenthal sees a link between the two cases only in their involving two public figures who have transgressed – because their crimes are different. Ben Izri accepted a bribe; Hirschson stole. “In my opinion, the prosecution will not link these two cases. If they appeal, it will be due to the comparison between those charged and convicted in a plea bargaining and a man who was convicted after he denied the charges and went through with a trial”.

Corruption Case Against Olmert Heating Up

No sooner had former Kadima government finance minister Avraham Hirschson been sentenced to 5 years and 5 months for theft of public funds (among other things) and former Shas Party Health, Labor and Welfare minister Shlomo Benizri lost his bribery appeal (and got sentenced for more than twice the original period of 18 months), millionaire investor Morris Talansky was back in Israel to testify in the continuing investigations against former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is facing a number of charges, including being accused of taking more than $300,000 that Talansky was said to have contributed to Olmert’s mayoral campaign in Jerusalem.

talanskyOlmert’s legal problems are a bit different now than they were when Talanasky last appeared in Israel to answer questions concerning the monies he gave to the former prime minister; especially since Olmert is now a private citizen, and as such no longer has the immunity he had as Prime Minister. Talansky himself is under investigation in the USA under suspicion that he illegally transferred large sums of money to Israel under the guise of the money being “contributions”. Besides the noted sum that Talansky is said to have “contributed” to Olmert’s mayoral campaign, there is also the matter of a sum of $150,000 that he is said to have given to Olmert over a period o f years, and used by Olmert for his own personal benefit, including upgrading hotel rooms during trips abroad.

Talansky is under suspicion by American authorities of using his relationship with Olmert to transfer funds illegally to Israel. He noted to reporters that he had been warned against returning to Israel, but felt that he needed to set the record straight. One of the big questions concerning Talansky’s relationship with Olmert was whether Olmert obtained the funds under false pretenses, and whether part of it had been considered to be a bribe. For his part, Talansky only agreed to return to Israel to testify after an agreement had been reached with both Israeli and American authorities in order that his testimony would not incriminate him by returning to Israel.

With two of his former ministers already going “up river” will the former prime minister also be heading in that same direction? Or is he clever enough to find a way out with only a slight “slap on the wrist”. Corruption seems to be becoming more commonplace among government officials and politicians these days, and even former P.M. Ariel Sharon might have had so face similar counts (that led to his son Omri serving a short prison term for miss-use of campaign funds) had Sharon not suffered a severe stroke in January 2006 that has left him comatose and totally incapacitated.

Hirshson Steals The Entire Cookie Jar

Avraham HirchsonI am getting the feeling that as we approach our 60th anniversary we are moving closer towards some sort of corruption climax. As an optimist I would like to think that we are cleaning house before the special birthday (this Wednesday night…). Today our Minister of Finance (Ex) was finally accused of theft – big time theft. In his capacity as Chairman of the Employees Organization he allegedly store 4 Million Shekel – 2.5 of which ended in his pocket. He is also charged with faking expenses and restaurants receipts for over 115,000 Shekels. Among the various charges (and there are a few) he is charged with money laundering, theft, embezzlement, forgery of corporate documents and breech of trust.

Since he is an Knesset Member (OY VEY !!!!) and he was caught not only with his hand in the cookie jar but with the entire cookie jar, he has the next 30 days to ask for immunity.

All this happened this morning while Shula Zaken, head of Olmert’s Office (EX again..) was interrogated for six hours as to her involvement in a corruption investigation that involves…..you guessed it – Olmert himself. So he was investigated last week and she was there today (not cooperating by the way……) and then Hirshson “stole” the headlines today.

Now last week, another oldie but goodie, member of Knesset Avigdor Liberman called a press conference where he complains about the horrible way he’s being treated by the Police and what a terrible witch hunt is being going through – over the last 12 years there has been an ongoing investigation. Police claims that he is not forthcoming and is not cooperating with the investigation.

Finally we have the “old news” that Shlomo Benizri of SHAS was sentenced to 18 months in the big house for accepting bribes. He was deputy Minister of Health, Minister of Health and Minister of Labour. Very impressive…. Anyway he was caught taking bribes, attempting to destry evidence and interfering with an investigation and lots of good stuff.

So you see – as we approach Wednesday’s celebrations we will hopefully have a little less crap in the Knesset 🙂

Political Rogue’s Gallery 2007-2008

Israeli politicians appear to be more and more under investigation for a variety of offenses these days. While some activities fall under what might be considered as misdemeanors, others are outright criminal; and should any of the perpetrators be tried and convicted, they could not only be out of politics forever but could face periods of time in prison too.

Corrupt Israeli PoliticansMany of the pictured individuals are either government cabinet or former cabinet officials, including Shas Party MK Shlomo Benizri, who may wind up following his former party boss Aryeh Deri, who spent 2 years in the slammer for a number of criminal activities, including bribery, and misappropriation of government funds for his own purposes. Benizri himself was recently convicted for charges dealing with corruption. Another prominent member, Kadima Party member and present chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Tzahi Hanegbi, has been under indictment for a number of offenses, such as bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. Some of these charges go back to when Hanegbi was Justice Minister under the Natanyahu government.

Avigdor Lieberman, Israel Beitanu Party chairman and former cabinet minister in Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government, has been under suspicion for years on a number of offenses, including some questionable business interests connected to a travel company that his daughter presently runs. Another (former) cabinet minister, Avraham Hirchson, served as Finance Minister until it was discovered that he was outright involved in taking government funds to help his son who had gotten himself in trouble over large gambling debts. Hirchson was a close crony to P.M. Olmert, who is said to be responsible for Hirchson receiving the said cabinet post. If convicted, Hirshson could face a lengthily prison term, as well as a substantial fine.

But perhaps the most noted member of this political “rogues gallery” is none other than Prime Minister Olmert himself. The Prime Minister, with the aid of his legal advisors and even Attorney General Meny Mazuz, has been able to steer his way through avirtual maize of “legal challenges” ranging from some property he purchased in Jerusalem using inside information, to violation of public trust concerning what is now being referred as the “Bank Leumi Affair”. Olmert has let off the hook by Mazuz in this incidence but many people outside his own political party are still talking about this affair which was often on the news in 2007. Olmert is also alleged to be involved in granting approved industry status to a company his law partner, Uri Messer, was involved with, saving the company more than $11 million in taxes.

One guy who got left out of this photo clip is former Likud and Kadima M.K. Omri Sharon, who was convicted of misuse of party funds when his father, Arik Shahon was running for election as Prime Minister in 2000/01. Omri was convicted and sentenced to 7 months in prison, which he began serving in February, 2008.

There are of course other political notables who have been involved recently in questionable activities; but the ones included here are some of the most prominent. All in all, the year 2007 was a very “interesting” year in so far as political hanky panky goes.

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