News & Politics

Ever Popular, Netanyahu Now Faces a Half-Dozen Allegations

Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu stands accused of “bribery, breach of trust and fraud,” for which the Israeli police have recommended indictment and prosecution. The charges involve two cases.

Case 1000 involves Netanyahu’s acceptance of over one million shekels in gifts — expensive cigars, wines, jewelry, first-class trips, and expensive hotel stays — showered on Netanyahu and his immediate family by billionaires with business before the Israeli government. Specifically named in the recommendations are Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer. Netanyahu’s former chief of staff is a key witness; he reportedly served as the go-between in many of these sordid transactions. Netanyahu, defiant, has dismissed this matter as “mere trifles” exchanged between friends.

The second investigation, Case 2000, involves influence-peddling. Here, the evidence is a taped conversation between Netanyahu and Arnon (“Noni”) Mozes, publisher of the most widely read Hebrew language daily in Israel: Yedi’oth Acharonth. The paper’s chief competitor is Sheldon Adelson’s Yisrael Hayom, which is distributed free. Netanyahu proposed passage of a law restricting the distribution of free newspapers in 2014 in exchange for more favorable coverage in Yedi’oth, which has often been strongly critical of Netanyahu’s policies. A key witness in this case is Ya’ir Lapid, head of the opposition Yesh Atid party. Lapid was a member of the government at the time, and now claims to have provoked the coalitionary crisis which brought down the government in order to prevent that law’s passage.

Two additional investigations are pending.

Case 3000 involves the awarding of a billion-dollar contract for submarines to Germany’s Thyssen-Krupp, reportedly without competition, against the will of the Israeli defense bureaucracy, and to the benefit of Netanyahu cronies (including his personal lawyer).

Case 4000 makes another claim of influence-peddling. Netanyahu is accused of providing benefits to his friend Shaul Elovich in exchange for favorable coverage on the Walla! news outlet, which Elovitch owns. A key witness in this case is the former director general of the ministry of communications. This investigation has been marred by accusations of collusion between the investigating judge and the prosecutors, but the director of communications remains in police custody.

A fifth possible scandal: Netanyahu aides are accused of offering an Israeli judge a promotion to attorney general in exchange for quashing the prosecution of Sara Netanyahu for misappropriation of state funds.

In short, Netanyahu now appears to many to be as crooked as Bill Clinton or Ehud Olmert. Prominent members of his own Likud party have called for his resignation, among them MK Oren Chazan and President Re’uven Rivlin.

Recent polls suggest that Netanyahu remains as popular as ever — although 51% of the Israeli electorate believe that he is corrupt. Some 48% would prefer he step down, against 40% who want him to stay. Even if Netanyahu does exit, Likud has consistently been running about four seats ahead of Yesh Atid in the election polls. A fresh election would likely bring another Likud-led government coalition.

This is the expression of the politics of no alternative. Lapid is incompetent and divisive. Avi Gabbay, head of the Zionist Union, is a leftist hack. Naftali Bennett, head of HaBayit haYehudi, could bring about Israel’s isolation through his policies, which even the Trump administration would probably not stomach.

It is likely that Netanyahu’s popularity is about to be tested. The religious (“Charedi”) parties in the current coalition, Yahaduth HaTorah and Shas, are threatening to bolt; they are refusing to help approve the 2019 budget unless the military draft law passed by Yesh Atid in the previous government is amended. They are demanding draft deferments for full-time yeshiva students — they had made this very demand a condition of joining the present government; it has not yet been fulfilled. Passage of such an amendment at this time would go far towards healing the rift in the Charedi public. The fanatical Yerushalmi faction are followers of the late Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach, who made repeal of Yesh Atid’s draft law the cornerstone of his platform.

Will Netanyahu indeed be indicted? Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has said that the police investigations were conducted entirely “by the book” and are therefore to be taken seriously.

However, the inspector general of the police has hinted that the investigators may have been harassed by private detectives. Whom Netanyahu, allegedly, hired to dig up dirt to discredit them.

Stay tuned.