Turning against Netanyahu

Breaking news (photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
Breaking news
(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
The story is an old one, repeated several times in history, literature, film and Israel's reality.
 
Most famous is the story of Judas Iscariot, and the use of the label "Judas" for a person turning against a figure to whom the turncoat had been loyal.
 
The term is used not only for those who go against a former leader and colleague, but for goats (Judas goats) trained to lead livestock from their holding pen to the line that gets them to slaughter.
 
The label has more than a bit of antisemitism attached, given in origin in the Gospels and via the name Judah=Jew. Rest assured that we are unlikely to be using the term here for individuals turning against the man they had served and supported.
 
A popular British television series, House of Cards, reached its conclusion when the hero's chief enforcer, along with the hero's hitherto adoring and loyal wife, engineered his death. 
 
The show's American spin-off has not reached a similar conclusion. The actor playing the character who maneuvered himself into the presidency was unceremoniously removed from action when revealed in real life to be a sexual predator. 
 
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert relied for years on a woman, Shula Zaken, who he brought with him through several positions on his way to the top as one of his closest aides. She not only knew his secret dealings, but at a certain point decided to record conversations. The ever-present and easy to operate and conceal smartphone was Ehud's undoing. When the Prime Minister turned against Shula, and tried to blame her for his misdeeds, she unleashed her recordings, made a deal with officials prosecuting her for actions that could have produced significant time and prison, and served only six months after being convicted of receiving a bribe and money laundering, while her boss spent more than 16 months in jail before being granted an early release.
 
We're in the midst of similar performances. The latest count has three individuals who had been close aides of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's agreeing to be witnesses for the prosecution in exchange for lenient treatment of their own actions. One of them has a collection of recordings likely to darken the prospects of both Mr. and Mrs. Netanyahu.
 
Perhaps a sign of the Prime Minister's desperation was the reported effort to solve a government crisis by demanding that coalition partners commit themselves to keep him in office for another year and one-half until the end of the parliamentary term, even if he is indicted for criminal offenses.
 
Turning against the leader is a possibility built in to politics, no matter how democratic or authoritarian a regime or lesser organization. It also happens in university departments, hospitals, commercial organizations, lesser government organizations, as well as at the peak.
 
What insiders may call short cuts through bureaucratic requirements may be minor violations of the formal rules for the sake of getting done something important, or doing something in a way that excludes important considerations from decisions that benefit a key individual or important supporters.
 
It may happen all the time and be overlooked for the speed and ease of action widely viewed as valuable. But the practice may also be on a slippery slope that begins innocently but gets to serious infraction.
 
We learn that power corrupts, and it may do so in otherwise decent places where figures become accustomed to short cuts, or the gray areas around the formal rules. 
 
The law may forbid a public employee to accept gifts, but does that prevent someone inviting a legislator to lunch and picking up the tab?
 
Should a few cigars passed among people of long acquaintance be a reason for a criminal indictment?
 
What about a p[rime minister's wife who repeatedly asks for champagne and jewelry for herself, as well as another shipment of expensive cigars for her husband?
 
Does the collection of favors become criminal when the overall value becomes great, even though no actual cash passes between someone wanting favors and those capable of granting them?
 
How serious must be the quid pro quo in order to generate an indictment? Does a prime minister asking the American ambassador to promote a friend's request for a visa amount to an indictable offense? What about promoting a decision that leads to considerable riches for the person who also provided gifts worth tens or hundreds of thousands of US dollars?
 
If it sounds familiar, that's where we've been for the last year or so.
 
We may have continued to benefit from Netanyahu's wisdom and moderation in action as policymaker even while he and his wife appear to be corrupt. We needn't approve of all his actions as policymaker to appreciate the continued stability and growth of the economy, our relative safety despite living in a dangerous region, and indications that former enemies are willing to deal with us to mutual advantage.
 
Bibi's cozying up to Donald Trump makes many Jews of Israel and the Diaspora itch, but having a president of the United States say and do what many of us think fair is worth something in a political setting where values and matters of style are subject to dispute and are not absolute.
 
To cite two important platitudes that are also part of political judgement, There is a limit, and There is some sh*t we should not eat.

Israel's police and prosecutors demonstrated in the cases of Ehud Olmert and Moshe Katsav that they work professionally if perhaps too deliberately and slowly for one's personal taste. So far the pattern seems to be repeating itself in the case of the Netanyahus and people who have profited from being close to them. We needn't approve of all the details is what is decided. The turncoat behavior of former aides may offend notions of loyalty. But it's part of the processes. Key individuals who do wrong have had ample warning from distant and close history about the risks of serious wrongdoing where it's impossible to act alone, and when everyone has a smartphone.
 
Benjamin Netanyahu demonstrated in his appearance before AIPAC his skill as a speaker, and then upon returning home his political capacity to work with supporters and adversaries in his government to solve a complex set of issues that had threatened a government crisis. He's a genius, but flawed. Commentators are guessing about which of his partners in the government coalition got the better of him in the recent negotiations, and when his alliances will unravel even further.
 
No one lasts forever. Those who see his demise as unacceptable should recall the fate of many others considered irreplaceable. 
 
Comments welcome

-- 
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem