Categorized | Middle East, Sharkansky_Ira

The many judicial probes into Bibi

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM — Between the lines, if not clearly in the lines of nearly every news broadcast is the question of how close are police investigators to the Prime Minister.

Except for what seems to have been a temporary uptick in tensions about the Temple Mount, Jordan, and Jaffa, we’ve been dealing with four separate inquiries. Or not entirely separate, since each of them shares a direct or near direct connection with Benjamin Netanyahu.

One deals with gifts provided to him or his family. The latest we’ve heard is that they come from a number of overseas billionaires with interests and/or homes in Israel, reaching above $100,000 in total value.

Another deals with conversations between Bibi and the publisher of the second most widely read newspaper, Yedioth Aharonoth (latest news). What we know about these is that they dealt with the Prime Minister’s effort to get more favorable (or less unfavorable) treatment from Yedioth Aharonoth, in exchange for the Prime Minister’s cooperation in downsizing the paper with the leading circulation, i.e., the free Israel Hayom (Israel today), dubbed Bibipress or Pravda, and owned by the Prime Minister’s overseas patron Sheldon Adelson. These conversations seem to have chilled the air between Bibi and Sheldon. They haven’t been sitting next to one another on ceremonial occasions. Adelson is one of the people interviewed by the police.

Two other investigations concern economic monkey business involving lots of money, where individuals “close to the Prime Minister” are said to have had their hands in the till, and were tilting things so more cash would flow toward their side of the drawer.

One of these touches the sensitive issue of national defense, and involves allegations of bribery to assure that a German shipyard rather than a Korean competitor would get contracts for submarines or other ships meant to guard Israel’s off-shore gas facilities. The submarines would be part of Israel’s strategic defense, said to be capable of firing nuclear tipped missiles.

Another investigation focuses on the country’s primary provider of telephone and other communications, and some complex acquisitions seemingly designed to escape regulation and provide considerable profit to the man at the top of the company.

In both the shipyard and the telephone inquiries, people at the focus have been closely associated with the Prime Minister.

One of the figures in the shipyard deal is a cousin and had been one of Bibi’s primary lawyers.

Finagling with the assets of the telephone company occurred when Bibi held the portfolio of Ministry of Communications, and the senior professional in that ministry (subject to the Minister’s appointment) has been questioned concerning his role in the manipulations.

Bibi’s mantra, when questioned, has been “There won’t be anything, because there isn’t anything.”

Israel does not have anything like the Brooklyn Bridge, but there are tunnels you can buy if you believe that.

Whether Bibi could be found guilty of something serious or not, his long tenure in office exposes him to the charge of not looking closely enough at the cronies who surround him, provide him with praise and gifts of considerable material value.

It’ll take a while to determine guilt. However, an indictment may only be a year away.

“A year!” you say?

Yes

Israeli prosecutors move slowly. They say deliberately. Others suspect them of dragging their feet.

One of the key players in the shipyard scandal has agreed to provide the police with evidence in exchange for a better deal from the prosecutor. Even more spectacular is a long serving close aide of the Prime Minister who is now trading a good deal on a charge concerning his own financial manipulations for revelations about the Prime Minister himself.

Currently there are no really big fish swimming in the aquarium managed by the Prison Authority. Both the President found guilty of rape and sexual harassment, and the Prime Minister found guilty of accepting bribes and obstruction of justice have been paroled. We’ve heard that the Prison Authority’s VIP section, with provision for special security associated with leading officials who know state secrets, would be refurbished as a regular prison facility, but we haven’t heard that the work has actually begun. .

There have been frequent demonstrations outside the home of the Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit. He makes the crucial decisions about prosecutions, was a close associate of the Prime Minister as Secretary of the Cabinet, and Bibi made the key decision about appointing him as Attorney General.

Protesters are charging political motivations in overly long running inquiries into the Prime Minister and his associates.

Counter demonstrations are charging that all the fuss is a ploy by the media and opposition politicians to unseat a highly skilled Prime Minister.

What hasn’t happened is the onset of public maneuvering by members of the Prime Minister’s political party. Likud is maintaining its reputation for public unity, unlike chronically squabbling Knesset Members and other activists associated with Labor.

A couple of weeks ago, polls showed Likud likely to lead the next government in the event of an election, with Bibi favored as Prime Minister against several possible rivals.

More recent polls are showing that a majority of the public does not believe Bibi’s assertions of innocence.

Commentators are sensing some weakness in Likudniks’ assertions of support for their leader.

A recent Ha’aretz cartoon shows Bibi’s most outspoken supporter holding a pistol to the heads of those members of Likud thought to be maneuvering to replace the PM, and demanding a more forceful assertion of support.

This week the Prime Minister criticized a Likud minister for working to unseat him, and there are rumblings among Likud voters against what some of them describe as ample evidence of corruption by Bibi and his family..

The Attorney General is said to be on the verge of an indictment against Sara for the improper use of public funds. Israelis argue as to whether the charges against her are trivial (e.g., using public funds to pay for the care of her ailing father), or whether repeated use of public funds for personal expenses over a number of years, make the offenses serious. There’s also the possibility that the prosecution of Sara is meant as pressure against Bibi, aimed at a quick resignation rather than drawn out pressure against the top of Israel’s government.

A prominent article in a weekend newspaper described the couple’s son Yair as a 26 year old who still lives at home, has no profession or job, except for traveling the world at the expense of his father’s donors with an expensive array of security accompanying him, and making nasty comments, with a scent of racism, on social media. Another item is that a woman noted that Yair had not picked up the droppings of the family dog, and got his middle finger in response.

Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Meir Shamgar, has seen enough. He said that the variety of allegations connecting the Prime Minister to corruption, including extravagant gifts of champagne, cigars, jewelry, and luxury housing for himself and family members should require him to resign. Shamgar’s wife, a former District Court Judge, agrees. She said that Yitzhak Rabin resigned from an early term as Prime Minister for infractions much less than Bibi’s.

Likud organizers recruited perhaps 3,000 party faithful to demonstrate in behalf of their leader, and to interrupt with cheers Bibi’s defense of his policy accomplishments, and his accusations of the political opposition and the media for their efforts to unseat a party selected by the people. What was lacking from his rousing speech, was any detailed denial or defense of the numerous charges piling up against him and those close to him.

Israeli and American cynics who are interested in one another’s politics are wondering which head of state will win the race toward an unpleasant finish.

*
Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.  He may be contacted via ira.sharkansky@sdjewishworld.com

 

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