The king’s downfall?

The "Yediot" affair could turn out to be Benjamin Netanyahu’s undoing.

January 12, 2017 22:16
Netanyahu statue

Golden statue of Netanyahu looms over Rabin Square . (photo credit: ELIYAHU KAMISHER)

‘Now that I know what it’s all about, I can tell you with complete confidence: ‘There will be nothing, because there is nothing,’ Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a Likud faction meeting this week, with regard to the corruption investigation dubbed Case 2000 for which he is currently being investigated The prime minister’s hubris may yet turn out to be misplaced and the leaked transcripts of his conversation with Yediot Aharonot publisher Arnon “Noni” Mozes could prove to be his nemesis. He allegedly discussed with his arch-foe moves to limit the circulation of the pro-Netanyahu daily Israel Hayom and to let a bill pass that would require the freebie to charge readers in exchange for favorable coverage from Yediot.

Legal experts say that, from the details of the conversation leaked so far, there is a definite quid pro quo and thus a foundation for bribery charges. “It is clear to any novice jurist that the deal, as appears from the sparse details of these conversations, fulfills all the requirements needed to be considered a bribe as defined by law,” the former deputy head of the Supreme Court, Justice Eliyahu Matza, told Army Radio.

“If the reports are true, and there was a promise made by a powerful publisher to the prime minister and the prime minister promised to advance a law in return, then there is no question that this is bribery,” the former head of the financial investigations department in the State Attorney’s Office, Avia Alef, told the same radio station.

But sources close to the prime minister were quoted by the News1 website as saying that Mozes was trying to extort him and that Netanyahu recorded the meeting held in 2014 ahead of the campaign for the 20th Knesset in order to document the shakedown and hold a “doomsday weapon” to be used against Mozes when the hour comes.

The sources said the prime minister had recorded the meeting at the advice of his family attorney, David Shimron, whose name also came up recently with regard to a potential conflict of interest, after it was revealed he was on the board of the German company selling submarines to Israel. Furthermore, they claimed that the offer of favorable coverage in exchange for advancing the Israel Hayom bill came from Mozes and that Netanyahu merely “played along.”

They noted that the prime minister had fought the bill tooth and nail.

Other reports claim, however, that Netanyahu told Mozes that if he barraged him with bad press he would “deal with him” and that the two adversaries had gone so far as to discuss which pro-Netanyahu reporters Mozes would bring on board to Yediot and which anti-Netanyahu ones he would let go.

Regardless of who initiated the meeting and which version of events proves to be true, regardless of whether an indictment is served – in which case he would likely find himself forced to step down even though there is no legal obligation for him to do so – and regardless of whether Netanyahu manages to extricate himself legally, he may have crossed one line too many this time around.

If Netanyahu were being extorted by Mozes, why did he not cut the conversation short when he had proof in hand and why did he not take the recording to the police? The recording was discovered incidentally by police investigating the prime minister’s former bureau chief, Ari Harow, whose phone Netanyahu had used to make the recording.

The excuse served up via his confidants on News1 that he was afraid police investigators would work in cahoots with hostile media to bring him down is nothing short of lame and paranoid. Netanyahu’s fear that Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit may not be able to withstand pressure for him to serve an indictment is, however, far more likely to prove justified.

As the pressure ramps up, signs of cracks are beginning to appear. Tzachi Hanegbi, the minister for regional cooperation and a close Netanyahu confidant, in an Army Radio interview on Thursday morning, responded to reports that Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon could join forces with the Zionist Union to create a government in the event that the prime minister is forced to resign.

Hanegbi drew an analogy with how Ehud Barak, the defense minister in the government of Ehud Olmert when he was indicted as a sitting prime minister had said that Olmert could not balance the needs of the country and his own personal affairs and would thus have to resign. Barak, Hanegbi said, was a traitor but Kahlon is loyal and would not betray Netanyahu.

The warning was chillingly clear: If you speak out now against Netanyahu, there will be a price to pay, all the more so if he survives. But on the other hand, Netanyahu’s ministers have not lined up to speak out in his defense.

And then there is the lesser Case 1000 where Netanyahu is being investigated for receiving gifts from wealthy businessmen, such as cigars for himself and champagne for his wife, Sara, who has also been questioned in the affair. Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, a longtime friend of Netanyahu’s reportedly gave the prime minister cigars worth some $130,000 over an eight-year period Netanyahu’s attorney, Yaakov Weinroth, told the press last week that “any reasonable person knows that someone bringing their friend cigars is not a criminal offense.” He is probably right and criminal charges are unlikely to result, but when 50% of salaried employees in Israel are making less than the median monthly wage of around NIS 6,500, should the prime minister really be living the high life and smoking away cigars worth almost that every month? One of Netanyahu’s favorite cigars is a Cohiba – incidentally a cigar with a history of political favor born when Cuban leader Fidel Castro had a factory to manufacture his favorite blend for himself and top party officials and foreign diplomats.

Just a few weeks ago, a golden statue of Netanyahu was toppled in Rabin Square, formerly known as Kings of Israel Square. Will life imitate art and will King Bibi finally fall? As for Mozes, one can only hope that there will be legal restitution for his complete contempt for fair and free journalism.

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