I’d heard the story before but loved hearing it again and again. It was about my great-grandmother, the Prussia- born, Berlin-raised Eva Simon Rifkin.
According to Sandra, my father’s first cousin and also a grandchild of Eva, the Rifkin matriarch was “very German in her ways, loved the kaiser and had German tapestries on her walls. She wasn’t a huggy-kissy person.”
Eva’s eldest son, Joe – Sandra’s father and my grandfather’s brother – was drafted into the US Army during World War I. He saw action in the Argonne Forest and was a soldier in what came to be known as the Lost Battalion, which toward the end of the war, in October 1918, was for a time cut off behind German lines.
No one knew anything about its fate.
With Joe not only fighting the kaiser’s army but missing in action, Eva’s remaining children, five in all, could not understand why she refused to remove the portrait of Wilhelm II from her parlor wall.
So one day they came in and restrained her (according to one of the more colorful versions, they tied her to a chair). They then hauled down the portrait and, to her horror, smashed it to the floor.
It would be months before she spoke to them again.
I TELL this story because it shows the extent to which we can cling to beliefs and preferences no matter what the realities are around us, beliefs and preferences such as those borne out in the results of a recent poll conducted by Channel 10 – an anti-Bibi newsroom if there ever was one. The results show that if elections were held right about now, the Likud under Benjamin Netanyahu would garner 29 Knesset seats, giving it the highest number of any party.
Sure, polls are just polls. But they express sentiments, and the results came after Case 4000 broke wide open. Yes, that case, the one none of us had really been following as the police recommended that the prime minister be indicted on corruption charges elsewhere.
We were riveted by Case 1000. It involved cigars, champagne and jewelry for the Netanyahus, allegedly in return for favors to two very wealthy men. One was Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, who is said to have had a visa problem with the US government and a potential tax problem with the Israeli government.
Case 2000 was a bit more prosaic. No cigars. No champagne.
Just coverage that would be more sympathetic toward the Netanyahus in Yediot Aharonot, allegedly in return for limiting the circulation of Israel Hayom, a paper that has positively fawned over Netanyahu and, because it’s distributed for free, has taken a large chunk out of Yediot’s readership and, thus, its ad revenues.
Even before the police handed down their recommendation for indictments, we also knew about Case 3000. This one involved Netanyahu’s personal lawyer, who is alleged to have invoked the prime minister’s name to steer a lucrative Israel Navy contract for submarines and surface ships toward another client representing a German shipyard.
So our attention was elsewhere when the sordid details of Case 4000 finally came bursting into the sunlight.
Case 4000 involves a fellow named Filber (if you aren’t a settler, chances are you never heard of him), a Netanyahu family spokesman named Hefetz, and a tycoon named Elovitch. For years, the latter had flown under our radar, quite unlike Nochi Dankner and Eliezer Fishman, two other tycoons whose meteoric rises and sickening falls provided us with endless fascination, not to mention a certain sense of comeuppance.
The case allegedly has to do with some chicanery surrounding Bezeq, a company in which Elovitch has been the major shareholder and which we think about less and less as we use our smartphones more and more, and the satellite TV firm Yes, which we think about only when the bill shows up on our monthly statement. Selling companies, buying companies – for many of us it was too yawningly convoluted.
But then, according to Channel 10, there were audio tapes in which the chief editor of Walla!, a popular news website that’s also in Elovitch’s portfolio, is heard being told by the owner not only to go easy on Netanyahu, but to fawn over him and even his family the way Israel Hayom had been doing. There are also said to be text messages in which Sara Netanyahu pretty much instructs Elovitch’s wife to tell the website’s editor the same.
The cost? Allegedly NIS 1 billion in regulatory and other fees that Elovitch would be able to save in his business dealings. A couple of weeks ago, the emerging tawdriness of the endeavor apparently led Filber, who had been director-general of the Communications Ministry at the time, to turn state’s witness.
This week, he was joined by Hefetz.
CASE 4000 is strikingly similar to Case 2000: media going easy on and even massaging Bibi. The major difference is that Sheldon Adelson, the Netanyahu supporter who owns Israel Hayom, would have paid the price. This time, you and I would be stuck with the bill in terms of lost government revenues that might have been put to better use, perhaps in feeding the hungry or putting roofs over the heads of young couples frozen out of a crazy real-estate market.
And all this, not for a tidy kickback or even a box of cigars or case of pink champagne – just positive news coverage that might enable Netanyahu to turn himself into a leader for life. That’s what Germany’s Wilhelm II was supposed to be before he fell so out of favor that he abdicated at the end of a disastrous war and fled into exile.
Yes, everyone is presumed innocent unless found guilty. But each dawning day, it appears more and more that Netanyahu has been playing the system to the max – and the rest of us for utter fools.
The time has come to reconsider the sanctity of that photo on the wall, the one of a smirking man who looks like he thinks he knows it all better than we do. The time has come to start searching in earnest for someone else – anyone else – so we can take the photo down and, instead of smashing it to the floor, simply put it away in a drawer where our mementos go and just get on with things.