Called to account
Zuma and Netanyahu show perils of perk-seeking
Two very visible world leaders, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and just-departed President Jacob Zuma of South Africa, have been accused of having taken advantage of their official positions for personal gain.
Their situations and likely fates are different, dependent on the laws and politics of their two countries, but the compromised position of both are clear.
Mr. Netanyahu, in his third consecutive and fourth term as prime minister of Israel, is accused by the Israeli police, after a long and sometimes publicized investigation, of having accepted cash and luxury gifts from various patrons, including an Israeli businessman and an Australian billionaire, allegedly in return for favors that included positive media coverage for his political campaigns. The outcome of the police recommendation that Mr. Netanyahu be indicted is unclear. He, of course, vows to fight. Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit must decide whether to pursue the police recommendation to prosecute, and the attorney general himself is a former aide to Mr. Netanyahu.
What is clear is that Israeli voters are embarrassed by the police charges, although this is not their first experience of allegedly criminal prime ministers, including previous charges against Mr. Netanyahu. They might also be just tired of Mr. Netanyahu after his many, sometimes controversial, years as leader of Israel. Some Americans have not appreciated his aggressive opposition to the Iran nuclear deal signed in 2015, or his view of the United States’ efforts to get negotiations toward a two-state, Israel-Palestine resolution of the problem of land in the former Palestine.
The case of Mr. Zuma is much clearer. Solid evidence exists of Mr. Zuma’s personal corruption, including both massive improvements to his personal property paid for by the state and a corrupt relationship with a prominent, rich, South African Indian business family, the Guptas. Police raided the Gupta Johannesburg residence on Wednesday and arrested three people.
The dominant South African political party, the African National Congress, could have gotten rid of Mr. Zuma through the parliament by engineering a no-confidence vote, and it already had lined up his successor, elected as ANC president in December, businessman Cyril Ramaphosa. Mr. Zuma had been given a deadline either to resign or be defenestrated from the post he occupied for nine years. On Wednesday, he announced his resignation.
In a world where ethical standards, including among political leaders, seem to be slipping in a major way, it is encouraging to see both the Israeli police and the South African political establishment taking action. Corrupt behavior by leaders cannot go unnoticed or unpunished. All of these people are, in the end, servants of the public and accountable to them.