Reality Check: A record beater with nothing to show

Despite more than 13 years in office, what has PM accomplished?

July 14, 2019 22:01
4 minute read.
Reality Check: A record beater with nothing to show

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on the fateful night of May 29, when the Knesset dissolved itself and set September 17 as the date for new elections. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Sometimes, an investment just doesn’t go as planned. If former prime minister Ehud Barak did regret – a quality he’s not known for – then perhaps he’s ruing the day he decided to enter a partnership with convicted US sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. Who was to know that a business deal set up in 2015 would suddenly become a hot issue in round two of Israel’s 2019 elections?

The facts surrounding the case seem reasonably clear. In 2015, as a private citizen, businessman Barak set up a limited partnership company called Sum (E.B.) 2015 to invest in a hi-tech start-up then called Reporty, now named Carbyne. Unlike other hi-tech ventures backed by former military leaders, Carbyne is not peddling new ways to spy on people; rather, it seeks to use video streaming and geo-location software to help emergency services reach people in need quicker.

So far, so good. The problem for Barak – at least in terms of image – is that a large portion of the money used by Sum to buy Reporty stock was supplied by Epstein, who in 2008 pleaded guilty to procuring a person under 18 for prostitution. For this crime, Epstein was sentenced to 13 months in jail and registered as a sex offender in Florida, after which he seamlessly continued his life of high finance, mixing with leaders in global politics, philanthropy and elite academia.

Now, following Epstein’s recent high-profile arrest on sex trafficking charges by federal prosecutors in New York, the US money-man has suddenly become toxic. In Washington, US Labor Secretary Alex Acosta has had to resign, despite President Donald Trump’s public backing. As the top prosecutor in Miami over a decade ago, Acosta was the person who struck the secret deal with Epstein allowing him to avoid federal prosecution on underage prostitution charges.

Given his own legal difficulties, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been quick to seek some dirt to smear on Barak. At the end of last week, the Likud called on Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit to open a criminal investigation against Barak, demanding that he disclose his personal and business contacts with Epstein.

The problem for Netanyahu is that Barak has nothing to hide. “You don’t have to investigate – I confess,” Barak said in a statement he issued in response. Cruelly linking Netanyahu’s desperate legal situation with Epstein’s, Barak went on to note: “I gave a second chance, both to Epstein and to Bibi. Both are now neck-deep in criminality. I expect both to recuse themselves until the truth is ascertained.”

Should Barak have associated himself with a known sex-offender? Do such criminals deserve a second chance? These are interesting questions for debate, but as long as Barak is telling the truth when he insists that all his business activities were properly reported to the authorities and taxes paid on them, then the former prime minister committed no wrongdoing.

And, importantly, Barak’s relationship with Epstein took place when Barak was a private citizen. It’s not as if, while prime minister, Barak socialized with tax evaders and accepted contributions for them for his reelection campaign in 2009. That was Netanyahu, whose French friend Arnuad Mimran was sentenced to eight years in prison in 2015.

Which makes one wonder: Why did Netanyahu launch his attack on Barak over Epstein, given the many skeletons rattling in the prime minister’s own cupboard and the incredibly serious allegations of bribery and breach of trust staring him in the face? Netanyahu knows Barak will return any slur with interest, so why risk starting a Twitter storm that has every potential of backfiring?

THE INEVITABLE conclusion is that Barak has gotten under Netanyahu’s skin. No one, not even Barak himself, seriously thinks that he will replace Netanyahu as the country’s next prime minister. Current opinion polls show Barak’s Israel Democratic Party barely crossing the electoral threshold if it runs by itself, while any center-left bloc made up of the Israel Democratic Party, Labor and Meretz will still poll far behind Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party.

But yet, it’s Barak who manages to provoke the Netanyahu (both father and elder son Yair) best every time. Come the weekend, Netanyahu will overtake David Ben-Gurion as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, clocking up over 13 years in office. As far as records go, this is an impressive achievement, certainly outshining Barak’s miserable record as the shortest-serving premier.

However, the more important consideration is how history will view these two very different prime ministers. Despite his very short term in office, Barak successfully put an end to Israel’s misguided, almost two-decade long occupation of South Lebanon. Aside from rhetorical grandstanding, just what, exactly, will Netanyahu be remembered for in the years to come?

As a famous historian’s son, Netanyahu must be painfully aware of his lack of a true legacy, a fact which can’t be covered up simply by prime ministerial longevity.

The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.

Related Content

Jammu and kashmir 248.88
August 19, 2019
South Asia, Kashmir and importance of its resolution


Cookie Settings