Today, Sunday, is probably one of the most painfully embarrassing days in the life of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who goes from being King Bibi to Defendant Bibi. Finally, after years of investigations, rumors and reams of publicity about his alleged corruption, he is finally being brought to trial. His court case will commence at 3 p.m. at the Jerusalem District Court. Netanyahu erred in trying to absent himself from today’s hearing, though it’s understandable that he did not want to be photographed entering the courtroom.
Although he’s the first sitting prime minister to be charged, Netanyahu is not the first prime minister to face that possibility. Ehud Olmert stepped down before he was charged because, according to him, he did not want to bring shame to the office. He spent less time in prison than the period for which he was sentenced, and by all accounts, was a model prisoner.
He has also been fortunate in that he was quickly able to rehabilitate himself. His name was restored on high society guest lists. He’s invited to be a panelist on various issues on which he has considerable knowledge gained during his stint as prime minister. He’s interviewed on radio and television and he writes a weekly column for Maariv and The Jerusalem Post.
Had Ariel Sharon not collapsed, things may have worked out differently. Olmert’s crime was small potatoes compared to what was suspected with regard to Sharon who had long been under investigation.
While prime ministers on trial or as suspects may attract more attention, no one in high office is immune from charges of corruption or sexual harassment, or as happened in the case of Moshe Katsav, even rape.
Such charges have also been brought against high-ranking army officers, with minimal follow-through.
It’s as if a high-ranking officer has an automatic right to violate female soldiers who serve under his command. One such famous officer was accused by several women, long after the fact, but never officially charged. He later became a member of Knesset and a minister. After he was murdered by terrorists, his reputation was more or less whitewashed.
Katsav was not the only president to get into trouble with the law. Ezer Weizman, who for years had received monetary gifts without declaring them, was given the choice of stepping down or being charged. He stepped down.
Israel’s Prison Services have also catered to a chief rabbi. Former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger was sentenced to three-and-a-half years for taking bribes, but served only 22 months. He is not the only spiritual leader to have spent time in an Israeli prison, but he is the highest ranking.
The late former Sephardi Chief Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi Doron, who died recently from coronavirus, received a suspended prison sentence for corruption and breach of trust.
Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto was arrested and imprisoned for bribing a senior police officer.
He pleaded guilty and after a year prison plus a NIS 1 million fine, he was released and went to Morocco, where in 2019 he became chief rabbi.
Rabbi Baruch Abuhatzeira, known as the Baba Baruch, was in politics before becoming a spiritual leader. While serving as deputy mayor of Ashkelon, he accepted bribes and was involved in other aspects of corruption. He was sentenced to five years in prison Eliezer Berland (whose rabbinical title is dubious) is currently serving time. He was convicted of sexual assault and is suspected of fraud and tax evasion.
They are not the only ones, but suffice to say that honesty, morality and integrity do not always go hand in hand with rabbinical qualifications. Just as there are pedophiles among the Catholic clergy, so there are pedophiles among the rabbinate, but unfortunately, most of those cases are swept under the carpet and remain hidden from the public.
At ministerial level, the corruption cases cover a wide swath.
Had he not died four years ago, Benjamin Ben Eliezer, who had been a presidential candidate, a deputy prime minister, a chairman of the Labor Party and the incumbent of numerous ministerial positions including that of defense minister, would have surely been brought to trial because he had no plausible explanation for the huge sums of foreign currency found in his possession.
But before that there were other ministers who were tried and convicted, among them former minister of religious affairs Aharon Abuhatzeira, Interior Minister Arye Deri, who is presently once more under investigation, former energy minister Gonen Segev, former defense minister Yehiel Hazan, former communications minister Naomi Blumenthal, former finance minister Avraham Hirschson, and former health minister Shlomo Benizri.
There were others, some of who are serving in the present government who received suspended sentences, or were fined or were sentenced to community service – sometimes two of the three.
There are also quite a number of MKs, mayors and other public figures involved in various categories of corruption. Some were sentenced to prison and others received fines and were sentenced to community service.
And there were even more who were not caught or who could not be charged because evidence was insubstantial. Of course, it doesn’t stop there. Leading business figures, judges, lawyers and physicians have also experienced the hospitality of Israeli prisons For Israel’s sake, as well as for his own, let us hope that Netanyahu’s mantra of “There won’t be anything because there isn’t anything” proves to be true.
If not, he can follow Ehud Olmert’s example and write his autobiography.
■ WOMEN’S ORGANIZATIONS are still seething that insufficient attention is paid by the Knesset to reducing domestic violence, although on Wednesday of last week, the Knesset did approve the establishment of a committee to examine the incidents of women who have been killed. This followed a request by Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg for the appointment of a parliamentary investigative committee to look into different forms of violence against women.
Violence is not always physical. Sometimes it is psychological, causing victims to lose all sense of self-esteem, and sometimes it is economic, whereby a non-working spouse is never given enough money to run the household and is subsequently berated for not being able to do so.
Zandberg noted that during the coronavirus crisis, isolation and lack of income have caused domestic violence to rise by 40% Following the October 2019 death of Michal Sela, who was murdered by her husband, the Michal Sela Forum was created. A three-day hackathon followed to develop technologies to help potential victims of domestic violence before they get hurt or killed. The hackathon, held on the Microsoft team’s platform, attracted some 1,500 tech-savvy participants who worked with court and law enforcement experts in matters of domestic violence to develop what could possibly be life-saving technologies.
In the long run, there were seven finalists whose initiatives were examined by a judiciary panel comprising Michal’s sister Lili Ben Ami, who is the chair of the Michal Sela Forum, Director-General of the President’s Residence Harel Tubi; Minister for Regional Cooperation Gilad Erdan; CEO of Microsoft Israel Ronit Atad; VP of Mapping and Localization at Mobileye Tal Babaioff; Senior DDG at the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Welfare Iris Florentin; CEO of Facebook Israel Adi Soffer-Teeni; Director-General of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation Efrat Duvdevani; and chair of Bat-Melech Tzilit Jacobson.
Members of the Sela family, Erdan, Minister of Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Itzik Shmuli, Minister of Science Yitzhar Shai and senior business figures all participated in the finale that was hosted online by President Reuven Rivlin on what would have been Michal Sela’s 33rd birthday.
The overall event was supported by leading hi-tech, public sector and civil society organizations.
The winning initiative was an app titled Stay Tuned. This multi-faceted app resembles a news website and allows women to call for help when they feel unsafe. The app allows a user to send messages to relatives, to inform the police and to secretly record the situation by saying user-defined safe words, shaking her mobile device or using a special button on the app, as she chooses.
The problem is that not all women have their cellphones immediately accessible in case of trouble. Another entry with fewer possibilities, but easier access, was a wristband with an app inside it.
Rivlin said that the final year of his presidency is just around the corner, and that he will devote his remaining tenure to the important battle against domestic violence.
“This terror, time after time, takes from us strong, wonderful women full of life.” Rivlin added that a plan of action that does not cut corners is urgently needed .With regard to the hackathon, he lamented that the initiatives were too late to save Michal, but was hopeful that they would save the lives of many others.
“Violence against women is not against women alone. It harms all of us.”
Lili Ben Ami said that the first step toward preventing domestic violence had been taken through the hackathon Meanwhile, Amit Almog, who earlier this month murdered his girlfriend, Maya Visniak, in a rare concession by the Supreme Court, will be examined by a private psychiatrist to determine whether he is mentally fit to stand trial.
Almog, who apparently has suffered from mental problems in the past, claims that he heard voices telling him to strangle 22-year-old Maya.