PM backtracks on portfolio changes amid war talk

Netanyahu cites possible "misinterpretation" as reason for his decision; MKs say move would have rivaled the Halutz Affair.

PM Netanyahu at the President's Residence 370 (photo credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
PM Netanyahu at the President's Residence 370
(photo credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has backtracked on a request to make changes to his personal foreign and domestic investment portfolio, saying he wants to avoid any potential misrepresentations over the move.
A special committee in the State Comptroller’s Office approved the PM’s request on August 15. In its decision, it stated that given the volatility of the global and Israeli economies, “there is a need to allow additional instructions to be made to the trustee of [Netanyahu’s] blind trust.”
According to the Prime Minister’s Office, Netanyahu notified the state comptroller several days later that he would not bring the matter to the current government for approval, “in order to avoid a misinterpretation.”
The Committee for Granting Permits was formed following the Second Lebanon War, when then-IDF chief of staff Dan Halutz was accused of insider trading for liquidating his investment portfolio just two hours after Hezbollah gunmen kidnapped two soldiers along the northern border.
Halutz’s portfolio was valued at approximately NIS 120,000. It would have suffered losses with the rest of the TA-25 index, which dropped 8.3 percent in the week following the outbreak of hostilities.
Ministers and their immediate family members are required to place their assets in a blind trust for the duration of their term in government in order to prevent conflicts of interest.
Although Netanyahu backed down from the request, Opposition Leader Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) and Labor Chairwoman Shelly Yechimovich both accused the prime minister of improprieties on Monday.
Mofaz called the request “a strange step that reveals more than a hint about the prime minister’s intentions.”
According to Mofaz, Netanyahu’s behavior shows that he is aware of the danger to citizens’ security and the national economy from an “unnecessary and unwise” decision by Israel to unilaterally attack Iran.
Yechimovich compared Netanyahu’s move to that of Halutz, and said his actions were contributing to the public’s lack of faith in the government.
“Everyone knows that the prime minister is exposed to information on national security and the economy that has a dramatic influence on trading in the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange,” Yechimovich stated. “In addition, Netanyahu can affect the market with his decisions, and it is a shame that he does not realize the problem with his request.”
Knesset Control Committee chairman Uri Ariel (National Union) said Netanyahu is “insulting the public’s intelligence by changing his mind because he is afraid they will not understand his actions.”
“Netanyahu’s sin is at the root of his request, in which he tried to change the rules made by the government in order to increase his personal earnings, while the public deals with the results of his economic policies,” Ariel stated, adding that he expects more from the prime minister, who should act for the public good.
Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office unequivocally denied any connection between Netanyahu’s move and the possibility of an attack on Iran.
“That is rubbish,” one official said of these claims. “There is no connection whatsoever.”
Rather, the official said, Netanyahu’s original request to the comptroller about giving updated instructions to the trustee regarding his investments had to do with dramatic changes in the global financial markets over the last couple years.
The officials said that those attacking Netanyahu over this matter – even though everything was done “above board” and he did not, unlike Halutz, sell any shares – were simply “playing politics” with the issue.
The uproar over the issue, according to the Prime Minister’s Office, was “much ado about nothing” that simply proved Netanyahu’s point that the issue would be misinterpreted and misrepresented.