Several days ago I finished reading the Hebrew version of Ben Caspit’s biography of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It is an extremely readable book, which I know Netanyahu fans consider biased and unreliable, and which will undoubtedly continue to be considered controversial even if at the end of the day the attorney general decides to prosecute Netanyahu in the various pending cases against him. I believe that most of what Caspit wrote is accurate, but even if only half is, the situation is bad enough.
Be all that as it may, as I read the book two questions kept popping up. The first was in what way this biography would have been totally different had Netanyahu’s brother Yonatan – whom he worshiped – survived the Entebbe operation back in July 1976.
The second was whether the course of events which progressively led up to Netanyahu’s current legal predicaments would have been different had he not married Sara Ben-Artzi at the beginning of 1991, about half a year before the birth of their son Yair.
It is generally assumed that if it hadn’t been for his older brother being tragically killed in action, Netanyahu would have remained in the United States, and under the name of Ben Nitai (the name he had assumed there in order to blend in) would have either turned into a wealthy businessman, able to pay for his own expensive foibles, or a Republican politician – possibly even a senator.
Netanyahu’s marriage to Sara – his third – occurred after he had embarked on his political career in Israel (he was first elected to the Knesset in 1988). Sara’s influence on his conduct and decisions is undeniable, but what we do not know is to what extent his current embroilment in a multitude of cases involving alleged wrongdoing of one sort or another can be directly attributed to her. In other words, would Netanyahu have managed to avoid being where he is today if he were married to a less tempestuous, more conventional and modest woman? According to Caspit today the couple are – for better or worse – a single, inseparable entity.
Caspit’s book ends before the most recent developments – the police conclusion that there is sufficient evidence for indictments to be brought against Netanyahu in both cases 1000 and 2000, and before Netanyahu’s confidant and former Communications Ministry director general Shlomo Filber turned state’s witness against him in case 4000.
This is the second time someone considered to be a confidant of Netanyahu’s has turned state’s witness against him (the first was Ari Harow in cases 2000 and 1000), and it has been suggested that a third might be on the way.
According to most of the Israeli media, Filber’s decision to turn state’s witness is the straw that threatens to break the camel’s back and force Netanyahu to step down – at least temporarily – even though at the moment the prime minister seems determined to continue as usual, at least until the attorney general decides whether he is to be indicted.
Netanyahu, who does not deny the basic facts in any of the various cases, denies that any of them involves wrongdoing on his part, and accuses all those who disagree with him (the police commissioner included) of seeking to undemocratically wrest power from the Right in general and him in particular.
There is no doubt that many of those who hope for Netanyahu’s departure from the political scene also wish to see the replacement of the current Right-religious government by a more balanced government, or a center-left government – myself included. However, the two are not necessarily connected, as the rather surprising interview granted by the currently suspended Likud MK Oren Hazan on February 21 to the second radio station of the Israeli Broadcasting Corporation demonstrates.
Hazan argued that upon Filber’s decision to turn state’s witness the situation has become quite unbearable, and that Netanyahu’s refusal to step down might not only result in the Likud losing power, but in the people of Israel losing their country.
What he was saying was that Netanyahu is turning into a liability to the Right, and that he must go in order to save the current coalition.
Is Hazan the first sparrow announcing the approach of a new season? Perhaps, though we are yet to hear a senior member of the Likud declaring that Netanyahu must step down because even though he is not suspected of major corruption, he has contributed by means of his personal conduct to a corrupt atmosphere, and by equating his personal fate with that of the state is undermining the foundations of the democratic system.
Unfortunately, most Likud members, and all of the Likud’s coalition partners, are keeping mum for the time being. Commentators explain that this is due to the fact that all the opinion polls of the past week do not support Hazan’s thesis, even though the earth is rumbling and an earthquake is likely to erupt at any moment.
For the time being the public debate around the situation is becoming increasingly boisterous and nasty. Some of the arguments in defense of Netanyahu coming from those senior Likud members who have decided not to remain silent are embarrassing and even scandalous.
For example, Coalition chairman David Amsalem attacked state witnesses as inferior beings and informers, without relating to the seriousness of the allegations against the prime minister. The chairman of the House Committee, MK Miki Zohar, chose to compare the allegations against Netanyahu to the murder of Yitzhak Rabin, since according to him both were/are designed to undemocratically get rid of a serving prime minister. From the Knesset podium Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev mocked the current allegations against Netanyahu by suggesting that soon an investigation will be opened into why Netanyahu’s kindergarten teacher gave him an extra cookie at the kindergarten’s endof- year party.
At the end of his book Caspit laments the fact that the man who was capable of realizing great plans and dreams ended up losing all checks and balances and becoming addicted to money and power. He predicts that Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu will not give in without a fight. The $64,000 question is whether the die has been cast. I hope it has.