Reality check: Living high off the hog

Is the Netanyahus’ insatiable demand for a flow of expensive gifts corrupt behavior?

January 15, 2017 21:43
4 minute read.
SIGNS READING ‘Go Home’ are seen before a left-wing protest calling for the resignation of Prime Min

SIGNS READING ‘Go Home’ are seen before a left-wing protest calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Hands up all those who carefully keep the receipts, dating back years, for the presents you buy your friends? And how many of you buy the same friends, week after week, exactly the same present? Who among you bought your friends a gift worth NIS 4,500 on June 12, 2012, and then felt compelled to buy them a similar gift worth NIS 1,009 only four days later, and then, another four days later, rushed to the liquor store to buy the same friends the same gift, this time at a cost of NIS 1,299?

No, it’s not reasonable behavior, even for billionaire BFFs (best friends forever). And yet, according to the Netanyahus, these gifts of champagne were simply a token of Hollywood film producer Arnon Milchan’s friendship for them. In fact, according to Channel 10 News, Milchan spent over NIS 400,000 over a period of years buying Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu their favorite cigars and champagne, the receipts for which were carefully filed in Milchan’s Ramat Gan office, just as one would a business outlay.

And what did the Netanyahus give their buddy Milchan in return? According to reports from Sara Netanyahu’s latest evidence to the police, they once gave Milchan’s wife a necklace. How generous. One gift in return for hundreds of thousands of shekels worth of booze and tobacco. No, it simply doesn’t add up. After all, despite Sara’s protestations, the Netanyahus are hardly paupers themselves, with Forbes Israel estimating the prime minister’s net worth as $11 million, so they can afford a bottle or two of the finest champagne and the occasional cigar.

But is this insatiable demand for a constant flow of expensive gifts corrupt behavior? Well, Milchan reportedly did call in a favor from Netanyahu, having the prime minister make three separate calls to US Secretary of State John Kerry to resolve Milchan’s US visa problems.

However, there are precedents for Israeli prime ministers asking for favors from the US administration for figures close to them, particularly those like Milchan who have also worked on the side for Israeli intelligence – recruited by Shimon Peres, Milchan has publicly confirmed he helped acquire equipment and knowledge for Israel’s nuclear project among other things.

Ehud Barak, for example, successfully lobbied Bill Clinton for a presidential pardon for billionaire oil trader Marc Rich, who was on the FBI’s 10 most wanted list indicted for tax evasion, fraud and racketeering.

Rich, too, assisted the Mossad and the State of Israel in all sorts of ways.

So, given Netanyahu’s track record of escaping numerous sleaze allegations by the skin of his teeth, and Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit’s extreme reluctance to prosecute his one-time boss (Mandelblit became attorney-general after having faithfully served Netanyahu as his cabinet secretary), it seems unlikely that an indictment will follow this latest example of the Netanyahu couple’s well-known rapacious appetite for free gifts, no matter how unseemly.

And much as I want to see Netanyahu brought down for the damage he is doing the country, an indictment in this case, which would force him to stand down as prime minister, would not be the right thing. All those people who voted Netanyahu and Likud were under no illusions as to the grasping, greedy side of Netanyahu’s character and yet they voted for him nonetheless. In his relationship with Milchan, Netanyahu has simply been true to his own avaricious character. True, it’s as unpleasant as stale cigar smoke and flat champagne, but it doesn’t make the prime minister corrupt.

But “Case 2000,” the investigation into the negotiations between Netanyahu and Noni Mozes, the publisher of Yediot Aharonot, in which Netanyahu promised to curb the business activities of free sheet (we can no longer keep up the pretense it’s a proper newspaper) Israel Hayom, in return for Yediot calling off the attack dogs on Netanyahu and providing the prime minister with more flattering coverage is a totally different matter.

Aside from Netanyahu having perjured himself – in a 2015 deposition to the Central Election Committee, Netanyahu denied having any contact with Israel Hayom beyond the regular contacts between politicians and media organizations – the deal the prime minister sought to strike with Yediot’s publisher is a clear betrayal of the public’s trust.

An essential component of a democracy is a free press and yet, according to the reported transcripts of the conversations between Netanyahu and Mozes, the prime minister deliberately sought to undermine this principle by buying off Mozes through holding back Israel Hayom’s expansion plans. The fact that the deal between the two men never actually happened does not detract from the gravity of what Netanyahu wanted to achieve and for this he truly deserves being indicted and forced out of office.

It’s one thing for a prime minister to live high off the hog, it’s another to shamelessly seek to destroy one of the foundations of democracy.

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

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