Is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu corrupt? Should he have to step down due to the police investigations against him? Or can he continue to hold onto his seat even if the police recommend to indict him?
In the coming weeks, and after a year of investigation, we will finally see how this all plays out. The police are close to completing their probes against Netanyahu, and will likely wrap up the different cases and hand over recommendations to the Attorney-General’s Office sometime in the beginning of 2018.
Some Knesset members are convinced that Netanyahu has no way out from these investigations, that he is caught like the proverbial deer in the headlights. Others – mostly from his own party – genuinely believe there is no substance to these allegations, borrowing from the prime minister’s own cliché: “There will be nothing, because there is nothing.”
Time will tell. In the meantime, the Israeli people should take advantage of these police probes – regardless of their outcome – to ask themselves what type of leaders they want to see in office, and if Netanyahu is of that mold.
Currently, there are three investigations in which the prime minister is – in one way or another – caught up.
We’ll go from the easiest to the most difficult. There is Case 3000, about the sale of German submarines and navy vessels to Israel.
While Netanyahu’s closest associates – David Shimron and Yitzhak Molcho – have been arrested, the attorney-general has publicly announced that the prime minister is not a suspect. There are expectations that Netanyahu will eventually be asked to give testimony in the case, but even if he stays out, it doesn’t look good considering the involvement of his two attorneys.
There is Case 2000, initiated after police obtained recordings of conversations Netanyahu had with the publisher of Yediot Aharonot
Not much seems to be moving in this case, which police initially suspected might concern a bribe due to the nature of the conversations. Those included an alleged offer by Netanyahu to cut down the circulation of Israel Hayom
– owned by his friend and supporter Sheldon Adelson – in exchange for more favorable coverage in Yediot
Police appear to understand that this is not a clear-cut case of bribery, and more important, that politician-media bargaining has been going on for centuries. It would be an unfortunate precedent for the police to try to take this case to court. If that were to happen, every conversation between a journalist and a politician would become potential evidence in future police investigations. For those who care about watchdog journalism and transparency in their government, such a move would not be beneficial.
This leaves us with Case 1000, otherwise known as the graft probe, the primary investigation today against the prime minister involving alleged illicit gifts of cigars and champagne from close friends. This is the case that has Netanyahu sweating. On Tuesday night during a Likud Hanukka event he launched an unprecedented attack against the Israel Police, claiming that 60% of police recommendations are “chucked into the garbage” and not adopted by the prosecution.
He then proceeded to make fun of Moshe Nussbaum, the veteran police reporter for Channel 2, by mocking his iconic bushy eyebrows. This is not how a statesman behaves – this is what can be expected from a suspect in a criminal case who is in panic. To his credit, Netanyahu called Nussbaum on Wednesday to apologize.
But even if Netanyahu’s 60% figure is accurate, it does not let him off the hook. The police investigate and then conclude their investigation with a recommendation to the prosecution. That is the way it has been for years in Israel’s justice system, and that is the way it will continue to be for the foreseeable future. By attacking the police as he did, Netanyahu is trying to soften the blow of what he seems to know is coming: a recommendation to indict him for receiving gifts from businessmen Arnan Milchan and James Packer.
As an elected official, Netanyahu is not allowed to receive gifts. Not 10 cigars and not 200. The same applies to other government officials. This is the simple straightforward letter of the law. There is no need for interpretation.
Netanyahu has admitted to receiving the gifts, but has argued that they were from friends and there was nothing criminal about them. That might be true, but police suspect there was more to the relationship with Milchan, and that as prime minister, Netanyahu worked behind the scenes to advance his friend’s business and personal affairs. If that is the case, then the prime minister might have taken a bribe.
Netanyahu has two difficult periods ahead of him: the issuance of the police recommendations, and the attorney-general’s subsequent decision on whether to indict him. Netanyahu is currently focused on surviving the publication of the recommendations. His fear is that if they are severe, his coalition will fall apart.
The scenario is simple: The police recommend to indict Netanyahu on charges of bribery, Netanyahu refuses to step down, and hundreds of thousands of Israelis take to the streets not to call for Netanyahu to resign but to urge Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon and Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett to pull out of the government.
Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman is not relevant since he has already declared that there is no reason for Netanyahu to step down due to police recommendations. Liberman, a veteran target of numerous police investigations, has little faith in the Israeli justice system, and anyhow, even if his party were to bolt, Netanyahu’s coalition would remain intact with 61 Knesset seats.
Kahlon and Bennett are different. They are more vulnerable to public pressure since they are proud of their clean legal slates. While Bennett will initially stick by Netanyahu, mostly because Bennett’s right-wing constituents will not support him bringing down a right-wing prime minister and government, that could change if the polls show a decline in support for Bayit Yehudi party.
Kahlon will be in a tougher spot. When he joined the government in 2015, he announced that Kulanu would protect the rule of law in Israel and prevent legislation that undermines the independence of the Supreme Court. He will be the primary target of protesters, and his voters – middle class and center-right Israelis – might not stand by him if he remains in the government.
Keep in mind that it wasn’t police recommendations that brought down Ehud Olmert as prime minister in 2008. What brought an end to his term was the loaded gun then-Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak put on his desk, threatening to pull out of the coalition if Olmert did not leave office. Kahlon could become the Barak of 2018.
That is why Netanyahu launched the attack against the police on Tuesday. He wants to get the public to question the validity of the police recommendations. He wants to keep the pressure off of Kahlon so that Kahlon will keep the pressure off of him.
THE DIFFICULT question is, what happens if the police do not recommend bribery as one of the charges? What happens if all the case ends up being about are the gifts Netanyahu got from Milchan and Packer? Yes, the law states that government officials are not allowed to receive gifts, but are cigars and champagne bottles – even hundreds of them – a legitimate reason to bring down a prime minister and his government, and throw the country into disarray?
There is no easy answer. On the one hand, the law is the law, and if Netanyahu is not charged for a crime he committed just because he is prime minister, a dangerous precedent will be set in a country that has until now prided itself on holding all people accountable no matter position or title. Everyone is supposed to be equal before the law.
On the other hand, bringing down a government has long-term effects on a country. It upends the government’s ability to see through long-term plans, and keeps the prime minister focused on political and personal survival at a time that he is supposed to be doing what he was elected to do: work for the people and improve their lives.
Netanyahu’s lifestyle – there is no shortage of stories about his high-living – is something the people need to decide if they will accept in their leaders. Do they want leaders who live off other people, smoke cigars, drink pink champagne, and feel they can attack any institution or person who does not agree with them? Or do they want leaders who are more attuned to the lifestyle of the majority of the public, and better understand their daily challenges including how to make ends meet in a country with a staggeringly high cost of living?
Whatever the answer, these are decisions that should be answered by the people of Israel at the ballot box. If this is just about gifts, then let Netanyahu finish out his term and then, if the people want him to go – vote him out. After nine years as prime minister, perhaps the time has come for change.
Lisbon, Tunisia, Bangkok, Hamburg, Montenegro, Miami, London and Moscow. This is the list of cities and countries where the Hanukka candle lighting was broadcast live this year on The Jerusalem Post’s Facebook page.
In a joint project with the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, we brought our Facebook followers a candle-lighting ceremony from the tiny Tunisian island of Djerba, from a Hamburg synagogue, a London high school, a Bangkok Chabad House, and Lincoln Road in Miami Beach.
Watching Jews all over the world perform the same ritual transmits a strong message. No matter the differences between us, we still share more in common. This is an important message to remember at an important time in our people’s history.
Condemnations of President Donald Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem were issued by the Reform movement as well as by rabbinic students at the Jewish Theological Seminary, while in Israel almost everyone – from across the political spectrum – praised the move. This was just the latest example – after the ongoing Kotel and conversion crises – of the different values and cultures between Jews in Israel, and Jews in the US.
But this doesn’t mean, as some have recently claimed, that all is lost. There are cultural differences, there are different value systems, and sometimes what upsets one community doesn’t even turn a head in another.
Eight different communities in eight different countries doing the same thing on eight different nights is a cause for celebration, not something to bemoan.
The issues are tough and the solutions won’t be easy, but there is hope if, as a people, we remain focused on overcoming our differences.
To get a feeling how that’s possible, all you have to do is visit our Facebook page.