Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
When The Jerusalem Post asked a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet Wednesday why he does not defend Netanyahu in interviews, he responded bluntly and honestly that his conscience limited what he could defend.
In the past, Likud politicians fought over who would go on top television and radio programs to advocate on the prime minister’s behalf.
Now, the best Netanyahu got was a strange speech by Culture Minister Miri Regev in the Knesset in which she made grammatical errors in Hebrew and made a joke about whether the prime minister’s kindergarten teacher would be arrested for giving him an extra cookie more than 60 years ago.
What the security cabinet minister did not say but his silence made clear was that he no longer saw any benefit in being the prime minister’s proponent. For a long time, giving interviews and defending questionable policies and behavior could be seen by Likud politicians as a worthwhile investment.
By questioning so many former Netanyahu aides and advisers and putting a fair share under house arrest recently, the police have sent a message that speaking on the prime minister’s behalf can do more harm than good.
That certainly could be gleaned from the testimony of Netanyahu’s former bureau chief Shlomo Filber, who has turned state’s witness against the prime minister. In the police testimony, which was leaked to Channel 2, he admitted that Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, had just “used him” all the years that he was an aide and a trusted confidant and an operator behind the scenes. According to the leaks, he witnessed plenty that was problematic over the years.
Filber, along with former Netanyahu chief of staff Ari Harow, took great personal risks when they returned to Netanyahu’s inner circle after a healthy hiatus. Both ended up paying major personal prices and becoming reluctant state’s witnesses.
Former Netanyahu spokesman Nir Hefetz went even further in his loyalty to Netanyahu. Unlike other aides who did their best to keep their distance from Sara, Hefetz became her close friend.
He strove to defend her in background briefings to the press, stressing that despite there being 70 witnesses and 16,500 documents in the multiple cases against her, the police recommendations were relatively minor, focusing only on meals ordered from a caterer despite the availability of an in-house cook.
Hefetz mocked the charges against Benjamin Netanyahu as well, comparing the cigars Netanyahu received from Hollywood producer Arnon Milchen to the lavish gifts the Saudis gave visiting US President Donald Trump, which included matching bathrobes for him and his wife, Melania, made out of cheetah fur.
Media reports Wednesday night were conflicted about whether Hefetz would be offered to become a state’s witness. If he does, then like Filber, he will have much to tell. But it could be that there will be no such offer and that he will end up going to prison for his actions helping the Netanyahus.
Netanyahu’s trusted lawyers/advisers/ relatives David Shimron and Isaac Molcho could also be convicted.
The message has been heard loud and clear. In retrospect, it was a bad idea for the prime minister’s former aides to stick their necks out for Netanyahu.