After several weeks of nahat, especially on the diplomatic front, our Prime Minister has had a rather infuriating week.
First there was the decision of Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, to bring charges against Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, for cheating the state over meals for private consumption costing more than NIS 350,000 ordered over several years from well-known chefs, and charged to the State, even though the official residence employs a cook to cater for the Netanyahus’ private meals. Sara tried to conceal the existence of such a cook by having her listed as a cleaning woman.
Then came the decision by the Jewish Agency Appointments Committee, which by an impressive nine to one vote decided to select the leader of the Knesset opposition – Laborite Isaac Herzog – as the next Chairman of the Jewish Agency, preferring him to Netanyahu’s candidate: Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz.
I have no doubt that the embarrassing meals episode, in which the Prime Minister’s wife was involved, could have been avoided, if only Netanyahu had bothered to take stock after investigations were first held against him and his wife, in connection to events that took place during his first tenure of office as prime minister (1996-99).
The first investigation had to do with excessive payments to a mover that the Netanyahus employed in 1996, when they first moved to the official residence in Balfour Street, and which they tried to get the state to pay for. The second had to do with official gifts they had received in the course of Netanyahu’s first term that they tried to take away with them after Netanyahu lost the premiership in the 1999 elections to Ehud Barak, even though such gifts are considered state property.
Charges were never brought because then-attorney general (and later Supreme Court Justice) Aliakim Rubinstein apparently believed in the year 2000 that the whole affair was over and done with, and that having been sent home by the voters in 1999, no more harm could be caused to the state treasury by the Netanyahus. Perhaps if Rubinstein had been a prophet, he would have acted differently.
The current accusations, just like the suspicions against Netanyahu in the 1000 case (cigars, champaign, jewelry etc.), and those in 1996-99, are no more than petty corruption at worst, and an unaesthetic normative failure at best, which the Netanyahus could easily have avoided.
The Netanyahus are not billionaires like some of their friends and acquaintances, but they are certainly much wealthier than the average citizen and can afford to pay for their various personal habits and whims from their own pockets without putting their financial future at risk. All they had to do was simply check with the authorities what is due to them from the State and what is not, and what they may receive as gifts from friends and acquaintances who might need favors from them, and what they may not.
But they did nothing, and are now paying the price.
I suppose Netanyahu can comfort himself with the knowledge that even if found guilty, his wife will not be given a prison sentence, but rather sentenced to do community service at worst, in addition to repaying the debt to the State, which was offered to her in the past in return for the case being closed, but she declined.
It is all so embarrassing and superfluous.
THE CASE of the Jewish Agency chairman is of a different nature. Netanyahu is in close contact (or at least is supposed to be) with the leaders of the Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency. He knows the human make-up of these two bodies, and must certainly be aware of the displeasure of many of them with the policies of his current government, both in general and in particular vis-à-vis that section of world Jewry (especially in the US) that is not Orthodox.
He must certainly be aware of the fact that they find Herzog’s positions much more congenial, than those of the rest of the potential candidates whose names have been raised in recent weeks and months as potential chairmen (except perhaps for MK Nahman Shai – also a Laborite). It is not clear why Netanyahu didn’t considere the possible consequences of the situation, didn’t prepare himself to confront them, and didn’t even show greater enthusiasm and determination in his support for Steinitz.
Netanyahu’s original candidate was someone else – the relatively obscure Yohanna Arbib Perugia, head of the Jerusalem Foundation, and member of the Executive of the Jewish Agency, who is reported to have rejected the offer. Steinitz was the default. However, according to rumors, a black cat crossed Netanyahu’s and Steinitz’s path in the course of the last year, despite Steinitz’s willingness to appear time and again in the media to stand up for Netanyahu, even under embarrassing circumstances.
However, Steinitz’s occasional mild criticism of some Netanyahu’s moves and his forthright criticism of the conduct of his son Yair in connection with Netanyahu junior’s shameful conduct around his visits to strip clubs, didn’t exactly endear him on Sara Netanyahu, who appears to have a say – much too much of a say – in who her husband supports for public office and the extent of this support and who he chooses to oppose.
If one looks at all the Likudniks who were sent to the dog house by Netanyahu because they were not considered to be sufficiently loyal to him, or rubbed Sara the wrong way, we find that they are almost all right-wing Ashkenazim with mild liberal inclinations. There is only a handful of them left in the current Knesset. They will probably be an extinct species in the 21st Knesset, where we shall be unlikely to find the likes of Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and Yuval Steinitz. Under these circumstances, the rift with the liberal sections of Diaspora Jewry will continue to widen, unless there is a change of government.
Netanyahu’s decision to “punish” the Jewish Agency for choosing Herzog by canceling a meeting that was to have taken place today with the Coordination Committees between the government, the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization, is apparently part of a move on his part to try to reverse the decision to appoint Herzog, and prevent his stepping into the shoes of Nathan Sharansky on August 1. But if this is the only way Netanyahu knows how to deal with the situation that he himself helped create over the course of the past few years, it is obvious why his opponents find it difficult to sympathize with his current predicament and are inclined to express malicious joy, and not only because Herzog is viewed by many as an ideal candidate for the job.
If Netanyahu were as great a leader as he perceives himself to be, he would have avoided his current predicaments, both on the personal and the world Jewry levels. He has no one to blame but himself for this embarrassing situation.