The Trials of Benjamin Netanyahu


The Trials of Benjamin
Netanyahu

Corruption in Israel is Not
Just an Israeli Issue

By Ramzy
Baroud

Whether the string of scandals, now hounding Israeli
Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, lead to his sacking or
not, it matters little.

Though nearly half of Israelis polled last July – well before the
scandals took a much dirtier turn – believe that Netanyahu
is corrupt, a majority of Israelis said that they
would still vote for him.

A recent survey conducted by
Israel’s Channel 10 TV concluded that, if general elections are held today,
Netanyahu will garner 28% while his closest contenders, Avi
Gabbay of the Zionist Camp and Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid will
each gather 11% of the vote.

“The next stage, which is
drawing near, is for the citizens of Israel to re-elect a
criminal as their leader and entrust their fate to him,” a
leading Israeli columnist, Akiva Eldar, wrote in response to
Netanyahu’s continued popularity, despite accusations of
corruption and repeated police investigations.

But
Eldar should not be surprised. Political corruption, bribery
and misuse of public funds have been the norm – not
exception – in Israeli politics.

Alex Roy puts it more
succinctly in a recent piece in the ‘Times of
Israel’: “The fact that (Netanyahu) still has a good
chance of being the prime minister after these coming
elections says more about how used to corruption we have
become than how clean he is.”

Roy wrote that his country
“has gotten used to political criminals” simply because
“each prime minister over the last quarter century has at
some point faced criminal charges.”

He is right, but there
are two major points that are missing in the discussion
which had been, until recently, mostly confined to Israeli
media.

First, the nature of the suspected misconduct of Netanyahu is different
from his predecessors. This matters greatly.

Second,
Israeli society’s apparent acceptance of corrupt politicians
might have less to do with the assumption that they have
“gotten used” to the idea and more with the fact that the
culture, as a whole, has grown corrupt. And there is a
reason for it.

To elucidate, Netanyahu’s alleged
corruption is rather different from that of former Israeli
Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert.

Olmert was corrupt the
old-fashioned way. In 2006, he was found guilty of accepting bribes while serving as the
mayor of Jerusalem. In 2012, he was convicted for breach of
trust and bribery, this time as Prime Minister. In 2015 he
was sentenced to six years imprisonment.

Other top Israeli
officials were also indicted, including President Moshe
Katsav, who was convicted of rape and obstruction of
justice.

These charges remained largely confined to a
person or two, making the nature of the conspiracy quite
limited. Israeli and western media pundits used such
prosecutions to make a point regarding the health of
Israel’s democracy, especially when compared with its Arab
neighbors.

Things are different under Netanyahu.
Corruption in Israel is becoming more like mafia operations,
roping in elected civil servants, military brass, top
lawyers and large conglomerates.

The nature of the
investigations that are closing in on Netanyahu points to this
fact.

Netanyahu is embroiled in ‘File 1000’, where the
Prime Minister and his wife accepted gifts of large
financial value from a renowned Hollywood producer, Arnon
Milchan, in exchange for favors that, if confirmed, required
Netanyahu to use his political influence as the Prime
Minister.

‘File 2000’ is the ‘Yisrael Hayom’ affair.
In this case, Netanyahu reached a secret deal with the
publisher of the leading ‘Yedioth Ahronoth’ newspaper,
Arnon Mozes. According to the deal, Yedioth agreed to cut
down on its criticism of Netanyahu’s policies in exchange
for the latter’s promise to decrease the sale of a rival
newspaper, ‘Yisrael Hayom’.

‘Yisrael Hayom’ is
owned by pro-Israeli American business tycoon, Sheldon
Adelson, Netanyahu’s close and powerful ally, until the news
of the Yedioth deal surfaced. Since then, ‘Yisrael
Hayom’ turned against Netanyahu.

‘File
3000’ is the German submarines affair. Top national
security advisors, all very closely aligned to Netanyahu,
were involved in the purchase of German submarines that were
deemed unnecessary, yet cost the government billions of
dollars. Large sums of this money were syphoned by
Netanyahu’s inner circle and transferred to secret, private
bank accounts.

This case, in particular, is significant
regarding the widespread corruption in Israel’s
upper-most circles.

Central to this investigation are the
cousins and two closest confidantes of Netanyahu: his
personal lawyer, David Shimron and the country’s ‘de-facto
foreign minister’, Isaac Molcho. The latter has managed to
build an impressive, but largely hidden, network for
Netanyahu, where the lines of foreign policy, massive
government contracts, and personal business dealings are
largely blurred.

There is also the ‘Berzeq affair’
involving Israeli telecommunication giant, Berzeq, and
Netanyahu’s political ally and friend, Shlomo
Filber.

Netanyahu was the Minister of Communication until
he was ordered by court to step down in 2016. According to
media reports, his handpicked replacement, Filber, served
the role of ‘spy’ for the telecommunication powerhouse to
ensure critical decisions made by the government are
communicated in advance to the company.

Most intriguing
about Netanyahu’s corruption is that it is not a reflection
of him alone: this is layered corruption, involving a large
network of Israel’s upper echelons.

There is more to the
Israeli public’s willingness to accept corruption, than
its inability to stop it.

Corruption in Israeli society
has become particularly endemic after the occupation of East
Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. The idea that
ordinary Israelis can move into a Palestinian house, evict
the family, claim the house as their own, with the full
support of the military, the government and the court,
exemplifies moral corruption to the highest degree.

It
was only a matter of time before this massive corruption
racket – military occupation, the settlement enterprise,
the media whitewashing of Israeli crimes – seeped back into
mainstream Israeli society, which has become rotten to the
core.

While Israelis might have ‘gotten used’ to their
own corruption, Palestinians have not, because the price of
Israel’s moral corruption is too high for them to
bear.

– Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor
of Palestine Chronicle. His forthcoming book is ‘The Last
Earth: A Palestinian Story’ (Pluto Press, London). Baroud
has a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of
Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for
Global and International Studies, University of California
Santa Barbara. His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.

ends

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