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Is the Holness Administration in business with corrupt Israeli companies?

Canute Thompson

Sunday, January 27, 2019

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Conventional wisdom states that a person's friends — not his/her relatives — are proxy indicators of his/her character. The people who make progress in life are those who align themselves with powerful people and, by the same token, the people with whom time and accountability eventually catch up are those who align themselves with corrupt people.

I wish I could answer a categorical “no” to the question raised by the title of this article, but I can't. I do believe, however, that it is a question that must be answered given that Prime Minister Andrew Holness has confirmed, as I indicated in an earlier article, that the Government of Jamaica is doing business with Israeli companies and the Government of Israel.

While I have, due to ignorance, answered my own question in the negative, there are a number of important facts which can be asserted with confidence based on the quality of the sources on which I am relying. These facts concern the Government of Israel and at least one Israeli company. The nature of these facts, and the unknown facts about Jamaica's known relationship with Israel and companies connected with the Israeli Government, warrant that the public demands answers from Holness.

The prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, has been accused of corruption and bribery and the Israeli police have recommended that he be charged. Netanyahu has declared his innocence in a televised address in January 2019, but the allegations have not gone away. In fact, they go back several months as Ruth Margalit reports in a January 23, 2017 article in the New York Times.

Does it concern Prime Minister Holness that a head of state with whom he has established unprecedented close ties has been long accused of serious crimes? Would the nature of the relationship between Jamaica and Israel be affected if Netanyahu is charged and found guilty?

The Times of Israel, in a March 15, 2017 story by Judah Gross, reported that 13 people, some connected to the company Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI), have been charged with “deep corruption”. Among those arrested is a former Israeli Defence Force officer, Amal Asad, a member of the company's board of directors. Another report in the Haaretz Israel News of March 16, 2017 describes the corruption scandal as involving “systematic criminal conduct” by the aviation giant. But Asad was not the only high-ranking person charged. The Jerusalem Post of March 15, 2017 reported that other executives and managers as well as consultants and vendors were charged. Meanwhile, The Times of Israel, in a February 4, 2018 report, disclosed that Israeli police had announced that a member of the Netanyahu Cabinet, Haim Katz, was to be also charged with bribery, fraud, and breach of trust while serving as the head of IAI's powerful union prior to joining the Cabinet.

IAI is a State-owned company which was set to be privatised and is the largest technology and military company in Israel. It has various subsidiaries and subcontractors. Its major products are military hardware and drones. The Haaretz business magazine, in a January 11, 2019 report, describes IAI as being in deep financial trouble due in part to competition from Indian companies, the Donald Trump policy of giving more business to American companies, and the corruption charges against some of its senior employees.

As I stated earlier, Holness has confirmed that the Government of Jamaica is doing business with an Israeli company and had signed a Memorandum of Understanding to establish a cyber academy in Jamaica. The Government has also made provision of $2 billion in the budget for the Ministry of National Security to go directly to the Jamaica Defence Force for various security initiatives.

While mindful of the need for secrecy in some aspects of national security, can the prime minister give the assurance that it has done its due diligence and that none of the individuals or companies with which the Government of Jamaica is doing business in Israel has been charged with or involved in local or international crimes or corrupt activities?

Mindful that IAI is a state-owned company, with subsidiaries and subcontractors, and is the largest player in the aeronautical, military, and surveillance business in Israel, what are the chances that Jamaica's engagement with the Government of Israel and aeronautical and surveillance experts would not involve IAI?

Have the risks here been evaluated?

I submit that the principles of transparency and the need to invest heavily in the fight against corruption demand that the prime minister is open about the scope of the relationship with the Government of Israel and all companies connected with the country of Israel.

Dr Canute Thompson is head of the Caribbean Centre for Educational Planning, lecturer in the School of Education, and co-founder and chief consultant for the Caribbean Leadership Re-Imagination Initiative, at The University of the West Indies, Mona. He is also author of four books and several articles on leadership. Send comments to the Observer or canutethompson1@gmail.com.


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