Making sense of the criminal charges against Netanyahu
Nearly a week has passed since Israel’s police recommended pressing charges against Benyamin (Bibi) Netanyahu, the country’s longest standing Prime Minister. This is not the first time that he has faced charges. And as ever, he denies them all, firmly.
Many political analysts in Israel have long felt that Bibi looks at most issues in terms of how he will be perceived by his supporters at the polls. To understand the full story, we have to remember Bibi’s core strength as a politician.
A former soldier in a crack unit, Bibi is a master communicator. He was a brilliant success at the UN in the early 1990s. On at least two occasions, he has snatched victory at the polls, when he was facing defeat. He is fully bilingual in English and in Hebrew. When briefly out of politics, he was a sought-after speaker in the private sector.
And this is the irony. Most of the police investigations into Bibi involve the media in some form or another. For example, in Case 1000, Bibi is suspected of helping Arnon Milchan to secure his commercial role in the world of Israeli TV. In Case 2000, Bibi is accused of seeking a deal with the owner of Yediot Ahronot, the country’s leading newspaper, and at the expense of its major rival.
Yesterday, Sunday, the police finally announced it was formally pushing ahead with Case 4000. Here, the Prime Minister has yet to be summonsed for an interview. However, following an investigation by the Stock Exchange, seven close associates of Bibi and / or his friend, Shaul Elovitch are in custody.
So what? Through holding companies, Elovitch controls Bezeq, which has a near monopoly of regular phone lines throughout the country. While Bibi served as Minister of Communications, there were clear attempts by the ministry to ensure that Bezeq received financial and commercial benefits to the tune of hundreds of millions of shekels, although not all succeeded. Further, there are claims that Walla, an online news agency owned by Elovitch, deliberately provided favourable coverage of the Prime Minister and his family.
As Bibi sits in his office in Jerusalem, one can understand why he feels that there is a media witch hunt against him – and his wife, who has also faced charges as to how she runs their official home. Bibi has never been prosecuted. And his standing in the polls is little damaged, for now.
For all that, there is another point here, which I will describe in three parts. First, I did not forget Case 3000, where the police believe that many close confidants of Bibi secured a large military submarine contract unwanted by the navy. Second, there are numerous other politicians and civil servants under investigation, such as Ari Harrow ,Danny Dannon and Dudu Bitan, who are or who have been part of the Prime Minister’s closest circles.
And finally, let me revert back to Case 1000, where the suspicion is that the Prime Minister and his wife received gifts to the value of one million shekels. As asked by the Minister of Education, Naftali Bennett, why would a politician need such a benefit?
At the very least, it is ethically unacceptable.