Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has coined the phrase “there will be nothing because there is nothing” as a response to the various allegations – some more substantiated than others – raised against him.
Nothing? Well he certainly hasn’t stolen the crown jewels, had his rivals jailed or eliminated mysteriously, Putin-style, and to the best of our knowledge has not opened a secret bank account in some offshore haven.
Netanyahu has never denied that he has not strictly separated his private expenses from those related to his position as prime minister, or that over the years he has accepted for himself and his immediate family extremely generous gifts in the form of flight tickets, hospitality, cigars, champaign and who knows what else from persons he might consider close friends, but whom he can reward handsomely due to his position. So one can assume that by “there is nothing” he means that in his opinion none of what he has done is in breach of the law.
That of course is a matter of interpretation.
His lawyer, Jacob Weinroth, recently stated that “there is nothing criminal in accepting cigars from a close friend,” the friend in question being billionaire Hollywood film magnate Arnon Milchan.
The police and the Attorney General’s Office are apparently not so sure, because it is not just a question of Milchan and others handing Netanyahu an occasional box of cigars, but rather regularly supplying cigars and other luxury goods, valued at tens or hundreds of thousands of shekels, directly to his residence. It has been reported that receipts were found.
One must admit that taken separately, each of Netanyahu’s supposed transgressions does not amount to much, and dealing with them one at a time seems petty. The problem is the pattern over time, combined with Netanyahu’s obsession with remaining in power at almost any cost.
Netanyahu’s supporters and defenders are in the habit of not only pooh-poohing the allegations against him, but increasingly use the argument that he is no worse than Israel’s previous prime ministers.
Israel Harel, a right-wing columnist I frequently read, argued in Haaretz last Friday that except for Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir – both Likud prime ministers – who were modest and honest, all of Israel’s subsequent prime ministers were, to some extent, pursuers of pleasure and self-gratification, and some actually underwent investigations for suspected criminal offenses or breaches of integrity. One – Ehud Olmert – actually ended up in prison. The rest were all treated cautiously and leniently, as Netanyahu was until the two latest affairs popped up.
One relates to the exorbitant gifts which Netanyahu received, and the other to Yediot Aharonot publisher and owner Arnon (Noni) Mozes – Netanyahu’s nemesis but apparently also potential partner in a crooked deal which, if substantiated, ought to send both “gentlemen” home, or possibly even to prison.
The latter affair involves recordings of conversations between Netanyahu and Mozes, the last of which was made before the 2015 election by Netanyahu himself and in which he is heard negotiating a quid pro quo with Mozes according to which the latter would modify the anti-Netanyahu editorial policy of his paper and help Netanyahu stay in power “for as long as he wishes,” in return for Netanyahu ensuring that the pro-Netanyahu, freely distributed Israel Hayom, financed by billionaire Sheldon Adelson, would follow a policy less harmful financially to Yediot Aharonot.
The incriminating recordings were found in the home of former Netanyahu bureau chief Ari Harow, during an investigation into another Netanyahu-related affair. Netanyahu, for his part, has claimed he was not trying to make a deal within Mozes – whom he openly despises – but rather to acquire incriminating evidence against him as ammunition for a rainy day. If that is indeed the case it is not clear why he left the recordings with Harow, or why he failed to make use of their content before.
We shall undoubtedly be much wiser about the details of the affair after the police investigation is complete, but no matter what Netanyahu’s motives the affair is extremely disturbing, and substantiates what many believe – that Netanyahu is willing to do almost anything to remain in power. He also appears to have admitted that he controls the policies and fate of Israel Hayom – something he has denied in the past. Mozes’s conduct might actually be more serious that Netanyahu’s – but he is not an elected public servant.
Netanyahu’s supporters and defenders keep arguing that if the Left wishes to topple Netanyahu it should do so by means of free elections, not muck-raking. The problem is that muck is evident all around, and there is growing proof that Netanyahu’s election tactics are anything but fair, such as the lie about the Arab voters swarming the polling stations.
Even though an agreement was not reached between Netanyahu and Mozes before the last elections, their last conversation offers ample proof of the type of tactics Netanyahu is willing to consider in order to win. So all talk about “ousting Netanyahu in fair elections” is a mockery, because Netanyahu’s tactics are anything but fair.
Though Netanyahu might once again manage to escape justice by the skin of his teeth, it will not be because there is nothing – there is plenty.