Exclusive: Israeli lawmaker warns corruption ‘eating us from the inside’

Former social protest activist and current Knesset member Professor Yossi Yona warns that corruption is ripping Israeli society apart.

By: Steve Leibowitz, World Israel News

Just six years ago, Yossi Yona was among the organizers of the summer of 2011 social protest movement that set up a tent city on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv. Yona entered politics and he is now a member of Knesset representing the Zionist Union. The son of Iraqi Jewish immigrants, Yona was born in a transit camp in Kiryat Ata and went on to earn a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania.

World Israel News interviewed Professor Yona this week in his Knesset office.

You were a leader of the protest movement that erupted in Israel several years ago. Now you are in the Knesset. As you know every Saturday we have anti-corruption protests in Tel Aviv and other cities. What are the similarities and differences between these two movements?

The social movement erupted due to the skyrocketing cost of living manifested in the field of housing, education, welfare benefits and low salaries that did not allow people to maintain and provide for themselves a reasonable standard of living. Now what we see is demonstrations every week in Israel that are very much focused on the issue of political corruption which is of course very different. Indeed, It is an important issue because the corruption we have been witnessing in scale and magnitude is really unimaginable. It’s like termites operating in trees and destroying them from within. We had been asking for radical change in the government’s socioeconomic policies. Today what people want is to eradicate political corruption that might eventually result in the collapse of the government.

Both protests are targeting the same Prime Minister. Are the same type of people protesting?

No they are not the same. Those protesting now are older and more established in the society. They belong to the upper echelon of society and the middle class. Their concern is not with improving the standard of living but rather with the future of the country. I definitely empathize with them and support them wholeheartedly because I do believe that at the end of the day political corruption is a strategic threat to the political system and to society at-large.

What in your opinion is more likely to bring down the government? The protests about political corruption or some kind of coalition squabble?

It’s actually very hard to separate these issues. They come at you as a complicated whole. An organic whole if you wish. They come at you at the same time. Corruption is still mounting and there are new investigations and indictments. At the same time the cost of living is still a problem, the housing crisis has not been met successfully so there are many issues that are intermingling and might add up to the critical factor that maybe will bring about the collapse of the government.