Middle Eastern Watergate

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Over the years, Israeli election campaigns have started to look like the American variety, with the rough-and-tumble and media hoopla that goes with the territory. Few observers, however, ever expected to see anything in an Israeli campaign that might come close -- at first blush, anyway -- to a repetition of U.S. history. Yet on Wednesday, police in the United States revealed an interesting coincidence: An overnight burglary occurred at the Washington office of a prominent Democratic polling firm advising Ehud Barak, the Israeli Labor candidate for prime minister. A preliminary investigation revealed that confidential records involving the firm's international work were taken. "It's not clear what the burglary was aimed at," says TIME Jerusalem bureau chief Lisa Beyer, "but the political analysis here immediately jumped to compare the episode to Watergate."

Concerned about the quickness and boldness of the comparison, the Likud campaign of incumbent prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately denied any involvement with or connection to the burglary. That the episode should jump so quickly into Israeli headlines and become the subject of historical comparisons is a testament to the inflammatory state of Israeli politics these days. "The campaign is shaping up as a nasty and rough affair," says Beyer, "and so it is not surprising that Watergate-type allegations of thievery surfaced this quickly." The U.S. investigation is continuing, and sadly, now more than ever, Israeli electoral politics will be turning to Washington for further instruction.