Last week former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was sentenced to six years in jail for corruption. In an email interview, Udi Sommer, assistant professor of political science at Tel Aviv University, discussed the state of corruption in Israel.
WPR: What institutional and legal factors have facilitated the reported worsening of corruption among Israel's political parties and civil servants?
Udi Sommer: Israel is ranked 36th among 177 countries in the world and 23rd among 34 OECD countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI), but the jury is still out on whether Israel has experienced an increase in real corruption in recent years. Still, expert rankings such as the CPI notwithstanding, the perception of Israeli citizens is of increasing levels of corruption. This trend can be attributed to developments in the Israeli media in the past two decades. From having been a country with a single television channel, Israel has seen the development of a media market and the explosion of online outlets in recent years and with it more coverage of corruption issues. Also, the political sphere has become increasingly competitive, and the primary elections introduced by several of the political parties since the early 1990s may also contribute to greater perceived corruption. While the forming of party lists in the parties’ central committees—which had been standard practice until the early 1990s—may have been equally corrupt, the primary system not only changed the type of corruption practiced, but also by its nature exposed a larger number of people to it. Finally, the personalization of politics may also have an effect. Political parties are indispensable as platforms for those running for elected positions in Israel. Yet, in political discourse as well as in public perception, corruption all boils down to the individuals running for office and their personal aspirations and interests.