Analysis: First lady in a jumpsuit? Don’t count on it

If Sara Netanyahu cannot be the country’s first prime minister’s wife on trial, will she at least be the second? The short answer – unlikely.

May 30, 2016 08:59
2 minute read.
Binyamin and Sara Netanyahu

Binyamin and Sara Netanyahu leave for the US.. (photo credit: AVI OHAYON - GPO)


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In 1977, Leah Rabin, the wife of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, was tried and convicted of the crime of having a bank account in the United States at a time when Israelis were not allowed to maintain foreign bank accounts.

She did not go to jail, and was only fined for what many regarded at the time as a minor violation that probably did not even require a criminal proceeding.

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But the political ramifications were significant.

The account, which contained around $20,000 when Leah was caught withdrawing funds from it and which had been opened when she was living with her husband in the US while he served as Israel’s ambassador, raised enough eyebrows to lead to the prime minister’s resignation and the rise of Menachem Begin.

If Sara Netanyahu cannot be the country’s first prime minister’s wife on trial, will she at least be the second? The short answer – unlikely.

In a long list of potential criminal issues surrounding the Prime Minister’s Residence, the police seem to have recommended charging her with some kind of fraud and breach of trust in her relations with a caretaker – the least exciting of the possible issues raised.

What makes these kind of issues unusual is that they are open to interpretation about the line between an ethical and criminal violation, which means the chances of indicting the prime minister’s wife are very low.

By the way, the police did not clarify much of anything on Sunday, even refusing to say off-the-record what the specific charges were.

That does not send a strong signal of their commitment to their own recommendations.

One also needs to remember that the attorney-general is often far more conservative than the police when it comes to pressing charges.

The police recommended indicting former IDF chief of staff Lt.- Gen. (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi, former IDF chief spokesman Brig.-Gen.

(res.) Avi Benayahu and former IDF top lawyer Maj.-Gen. (res.) Avichai Mandelblit in the Harpaz Affair. But the attorney general at the time, Yehuda Weinstein, rejected all of their recommendations, requiring a higher standard for a reasonable chance of conviction.

The biggest proof that police recommendations can be ignored by an attorney-general are that Mandelblit, who they wanted to indict, is now attorney-general, and will be making the decision in this case whether or not to accept their recommendations.

Having disagreed with their recommendation to indict him, he will clearly feel free to ignore other recommendations.

And, of course, as highly regarded as Mandelblit is, one should not forget that the prime minister worked hard to get him appointed to his current job, and also gave him his previous job as cabinet secretary.

This is another major difference with Rabin. Then attorney-general Aharon Barak was fiercely committed to bringing her to trial, even over the objections of some in the Finance Ministry who saw the infraction as minor.

Then again, few expected former prime minister Ehud Olmert ever to enter the special wing of Ma’asiyahu Prison where he now sits – so anything is possible.

In the very unlikely scenario in which Netanyahu is indicted and convicted, the theoretical maximum punishment is five years.

Yet, with Olmert receiving only 18 months for the much more serious crime of bribery, she might get as little as a suspended sentence with no jail time.

So, as much as she may be disliked by the media, it’s unlikely we’ll be seeing Sara Netanyahu sporting a jumpsuit anytime soon.

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