Some years ago, my friend Malcolm Feeley dealt with crime in the streets via a book entitled, The Process is the Punishment. His theme was that a great deal of crime — including violence — that occurs in the world's worst neighborhoods is not formally punished. The police can't find conclusive evidence, the courts are jammed, the jails also overcrowded. So lots of violators go free, but not before spending some days in jail. Most likely they commit similar crimes again. There are more inquiries, additional times in jail, court appearances with public defenders, but relatively few come up against a guilty verdict and a long prison sentence. Many disappear from police concern only when killed by a rival.
Since Malcolm wrote that book, lots of criminals have gone to prison, many of them for long sentences associated with drug activities that elsewhere are misdemeanors. However, there continues to be more crime on the street that is dealt with as older textbooks describe.
The parallel to Benjamin Netanyahu and Mrs. Sara Netanyahu is tantalizing.
It may be years before either of them goes to jail, if they do. But meanwhile they'll go through unpleasant years of continued required interviews with the cops, despite the Prime Minister's capacity to evade or postpone them with overseas trips and other pressing business. The media will delight us with stories that get juicier by the month, despite efforts of the prime minister and his followers to paint it all a campaign of fake news.
Most recently we've heard that the police are closing in on the Prime Minister, and maybe even Sara, on what's called Case 4000. It's concerned with Israel's principal national telephone-communications company. Apparently its head was given a break on issues of regulation to expand his empire, in exchange for favorable treatment of the prime minister and his wife on his news outlet.
In an escalation of police behavior, a number of senior officials of the communications company and people close to the prime minister have been held in custody for several days of questioning.
It's a tough police tactic, counting on the confinement, the noise, the stink, and the fleas in the bedding to provoke cooperation.
We read that Sara was a player in this scandal, passing information between the principals. Presumably, she brought proposals or agreements from her husband to the head of the telephone company, via her friend, the wife of telephone entrepreneur.
The wife who received those messages is among the people held in jail while being questioned.
Can we expect the police to move in a similar manner against Sara? Or does the prime minister's privilege extend to members of his family?
Also revealed recently is a controversy involving a judge who was allegedly offered the appointment of attorney-general on condition that she close a case against Sara Netanyahu.
A convoluted set of procedures, all of them with the prime minister somewhere in the middle, was made more complex by the revelation of text messages between a judge and a prosecutor, outside of open court. By one view, the texting was a forgivable breach of procedure, reflecting a crowded court calendar, the pressure of time on a high profile case, and lack of supporting staff for judges. However, the prime minister and his cadres are milking it for all it's worth, calling for criminal actions against the judge and a parliamentary commission of inquiry.
The nastiness goes in different directions. A reporter with Israel Radio who broadcast something critical of Sara was ruled persona non grata, and kept off the flights that the prime minister takes to overseas meetings.
We read that Sara's brother hasn't spoken to her since their father's funeral.
There's a story from university sources that the couple's sex-obsessed eldest son wasn't the brightest kid in the classroom. And on an occasion when he asked a secretary to clarify something about his student record, and was not happy with the result, he challenged the results by asking if she knew who he was.
Are tales like that fake news, created by sources unfriendly to the prime minister, his family, and the whole of Likud?
Such questions are part of Israeli conversations, asked by individuals sure of one answer or another.
It was 23 years between the first official report about Ehud Olmert's misdealings, and his entry into prison. The earlier event appeared in a report by the State Comptroller. It dealt with Olmert as health minister favoring a company owned by a Likud activist for a contract to sell supplies to Israeli hospitals. Olmert did not respond, as he was required by law, to the State Comptroller's demand for more information.
That instance rested with a few lines in an official report. Later came inquiries about Olmert being offered an unusually good price for a house he bought, then assertions that he finagled major property transactions as Mayor of Jerusalem, and was on the receiving end of cash-filled envelopes. It was only when a trusted aide traded a good deal with respect to her own problems for a recording of an incriminating conversation that she had surreptitiously but wisely made, that then-Prime Minister Olmert had to step down and face what became the most serious of his many encounters with police and judges.
Bibi isn't there, yet. Nor is Sara.
The stories of Olmert, the Netanyahus, former president Moshe Katzav, and a number of other worthies raise the issue of Israel's standing as a country of law, or mired in corruption. The application of law takes a while. In Judaic tradition, the pursuit of justice overrides the desirability of dispatch. That the highest can be tried, found guilty and ultimately sent to prison is worth something in comparing this place with others.
The Netanyahus may be with us for years before they encounter their formal reckoning. But already, we can assume they are suffering from the annoyance and tension of repeated sessions with the police, unfriendly publicity and fear of what may be at the end of the road.
According to John Oliver, she is Israel's Marie Antoinette.
Meanwhile, the process is as much punishment as they are getting. But it is not insignificant, even if he is still in office, smoking gift cigars, and she is still drinking gift campaign while wearing gift jewelry.
And the Netanyahu supporters are still saying it's all a fake, grossly exaggerated, or — if true — far less important than their service to Israel.
Comments are welcome.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem