Attorney Yitzhak Molcho (right) sits with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara.
(photo credit: MOSHE MILNER / GPO)
In an in-depth article that appeared in The Jerusalem Post’s Magazine this past weekend, Herb Keinon, the Post’s diplomatic correspondent, profiled Yitzhak Molcho, one of the most influential and enigmatic figures connected to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Molcho has been at Netanyahu’s side as his special emissary to the Palestinians and the Arab states since Netanyahu first took power as prime minister in 1996.
But unlike men like Ron Dermer, Uzi Arad, Yaakov Amidror and Dore Gold, who are public figures who speak to the press, obligated to give briefings before the cabinet and Knesset, and who are accessible and well known to the wider public, Molcho is largely a mystery.
His name is heard on the radio and mentioned in the print media. He appears in photo ops that are broadcast on prime time TV, but he is an inconspicuous figure whose diplomatic work is kept secret. His personal views and political leanings have not been articulated, because nary a substantive, policy-oriented interview has been conducted with him.
The high level of confidentiality and discretion maintained by Molcho is undoubtedly one of the reasons he is so valued by Netanyahu as a personal emissary. Molcho is a lawyer who heads one of the most successful legal firms in Jerusalem together with David Shimron, who is Netanyahu’s relative. And he adheres to the same level of complete confidentiality in his diplomatic efforts for Netanyahu as he does in his commercial dealings for clients.
Another reason Molcho has earned Netanyahu’s complete trust is because the two have known each other for five decades. The Netanyahu and Molcho families are from Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood. Molcho comes from a long line of prominent leaders and businessmen: his great grandfather bought the land on which Rehavia today was built from the Greek Orthodox Church; his grandfather was considered the “mukhtar” of Rehavia; and his father was one of the founders of Discount Bank and served Levi Eshkol, then finance minister, as head of foreign currency for the Finance Ministry.
Still, as Keinon put it, “here is a man with an enormous amount of influence on the prime minister who leads negotiations on extremely sensitive issues that will have an impact on the security of the nation, yet he works entirely in the shadows.”
Molcho is not a government employee and is, therefore, not subject to the government oversight and transparency that apply to civil servants. He is privy to the most sensitive information and has the power to influence Israel’s relations with its neighbors. Yet, he remains out of the purview of democratic processes.
Is this bad governance, as some critics who spoke with Keinon argued? While the prime minister should be allowed to consult special advisers on a wide range of issues, shouldn’t someone like Molcho, with such a critical influence on diplomatic processes, be subject to a little more oversight? An argument can be made that someone like Molcho is ideal for his diplomatic position. He harbors no political aspirations, therefore, he will not attempt to exploit his diplomatic activities as a means of advancing his own political career. Nor can Molcho be influenced by economic gain: he comes from an affluent family and heads a thriving legal firm. His only remuneration is a symbolic payment of one shekel a year. His own political views are probably unknown because he is a pragmatist, not an ideologue. Therefore, his advice should be based less on ideological paradigms and party platform declarations than sound reasoning and what is good for the nation.
Still, one of the foundations of democracy is transparency.
Democracy’s strength is founded on its ability to learn from its mistakes and correct them by replacing leadership with individuals thought by the public to be more talented. But if the actions of leaders are shrouded in mystery, this process is impossible to carry out. The heads of the Mossad and the Shin Bet do not give media interviews, but they do provide regular briefings to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Maybe Molcho should, too.