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Rabin’s Party Bought Votes, Report Says

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s Labor Party effectively bought its way back into power, the Israeli state comptroller charged on Monday in a hard-hitting report that accused the party and a parliamentary ally of gross violations of Israel’s election laws.

“What the (Labor Party) did is called buying votes, buying the government with money,” Miriam Ben-Porat, the state comptroller, said, fining Labor the equivalent of $275,000 for accepting illegal contributions. “No doubt they thought it was all right, but legally it was wrong.”

Ben-Porat said that, contrary to Israeli law, the Labor Party had also helped finance the Shas Party, now a parliamentary ally, and a second party outside the present government to draw votes of ultra-Orthodox Jews away from the rival Likud Party. She fined Shas $1.1 million.

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Likud, absolved by the report of election law violations, immediately called for a parliamentary debate on the report and a vote of no confidence in the Rabin government. “It has been proven that this party (Labor) bought and paid for its authority, and thus it is not fit to rule,” declared Moshe Katsav, a Likud leader.

Rafael Eitan, the leader of Tsomet, another right-wing opposition party, went further, demanding the disbanding of the present Parliament and calling for new elections.

But Nissim Zvilli, Labor’s new secretary general, replied that most of the charges stemmed from actions two and three years ago and had no connection with the elections last June to the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, that brought Rabin back to power.

“Labor is strong enough to win in its own right,” Zvilli said, dismissing a central contention of the report that Labor had underwritten Shas and the Hatikva Party, which also appealed to immigrants from North Africa and other Arab countries, to weaken Likud’s support among those voters. “Out of all the political agreements signed which the comptroller found invalid, none was made in the context of the 1992 elections. Therefore, accusations that we bought our way to power have no basis.”

Yet, in exposing Labor’s penchant for back-room deals and under-the-table financing, Ben-Porat raised serious questions about the way the party returned to power after its 1977 defeat by Likud and to whom it owes that victory.

Listing contributions that Labor had received from Israeli industrialists, building contractors, dairy owners, importers and others whose businesses depend on government appropriations and regulations, Ben-Porat suggested that the present coalition had incurred “serious debts” in its June victory; she called for a prohibition on private donations to political parties.

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As early as 1990, Rabin’s campaign committee collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal contributions, anticipating parliamentary elections after the fall of a Likud-led government of national unity, Ben-Porat said. Rabin had no comment Monday on the charges.

The whole matter is “very, very grave,” said Hagai Merom, Labor Party chairman of the Knesset affairs committee in Parliament, promising that Labor would examine the report to see “who should take responsibility for what has happened.”

In a report read at length on Israeli radio stations through the day, Ben-Porat accused Labor and Shas of trading political favors and money in an unsuccessful attempt two years ago to bring about Labor control of the government. Shas also received about $600,000 from Labor in 1990 to withdraw candidates in elections for Israel’s Histadrut Labor Federation and to support the Labor list, in a campaign meant to lay the basis for an alliance in subsequent parliamentary elections, said Ben-Porat.

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