Thursday, February 22, 2018

Dysfunctional politics and disgraceful behavior - Isi Leibler




by Isi Leibler

The current effort orchestrated by the police and media is the culmination of decades of delegitimization directed against a prime minister who has proven outstanding diplomatic leadership and is largely responsible for transforming Israel into a financial and military superpower.

The criminal charges recommended by the Israel Police against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the politicians' and media's reactions amount to perhaps the most scandalous political imbroglio in Israel's history.

We look back nostalgically at the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin, whose austere lifestyle was the antitheses of Netanyahu's ostentatiousness.

The current effort orchestrated by the police and media is the culmination of decades of delegitimization directed against a prime minister who has proven outstanding diplomatic leadership and is largely responsible for transforming Israel into a financial and military superpower.

Ever since he was elected to lead the Likud, the mainstream media – with the exception of Israel Hayom – has ceaselessly sought to besmirch him. No other democratic leader has been so vilified.

Over the past two years, the police invested inordinate sums and employed massive manpower in a desperate effort to find a smoking gun. Based on what has been disclosed until now, they have failed. Yet in a scandalous breach of accepted practice, every shred of gossip hinting at Netanyahu's guilt was leaked to the media.

The ultimate outrage was a TV interview with Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh in the week prior to the release of the police recommendation. Alsheikh unleashed a tirade against the prime minister, predicting that he would soon be charged with two major acts of corruption. He also effectively confirmed that he had been leaking confidential police data to the media. To top it off, he implied that Netanyahu had orchestrated the engagement of private investigators to monitor the police inquiries. Yet, when challenged, he was unable to produce any evidence substantiating these allegations.

In any normal democracy, a police commissioner breaching his duties on any of these issues would be dismissed. In our dysfunctional system, Alsheikh carries on as usual.

After two years of digging under every stone, real or imagined, the police recommended that Netanyahu be indicted on two charges of bribery and corruption.

The first charge was accepting bribes in return for favors to Israeli billionaire Arnon Milchan and Australian tycoon James Packer. Netanyahu was accused of receiving large quantities of cigars and champagne, amounting to about a million shekels ($280,000).

What evidence did the police disclose that Milchan's gifts amounted to a bribe? They claimed that Netanyahu intervened with the U.S. secretary of state and ambassador to obtain a visa for Milchan. But the prime minister was entitled to do so, and this would have been an appropriate intercession on behalf of Milchan, who was involved in clandestine intelligence activity for Israel. The late President Shimon Peres made similar requests on behalf of Milchan and no eyebrows were raised.

The supposed smoking gun was testimony by Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, who alleged that when he was finance minister, Netanyahu sought – unsuccessfully – to double the 10-year period of tax exemption on foreign income of returning Israeli expats, which would have immensely benefited Milchan.

But no such legislation was ever even tabled and it was immediately rejected by the Finance Ministry. Nor is it clear whether Lapid is claiming that he was under pressure by Netanyahu to advance the legislation or that Netanyahu merely asked him to review the proposal. Even if Lapid claims he was under pressure, it is debatable whether a court would convict Netanyahu based on the testimony of a politician who aims to replace him.

It is also unclear whether Lapid initiated his testimony or was approached by the police. His mistake as a key witness was to call for Netanyahu's resignation even before the police recommendations were released. The fact that he never mentioned the issue earlier has also raised doubts about his credibility.

The second charge appears to be even more ludicrous. Netanyahu is alleged to have offered a bribe to Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Noni Mozes in a deal that would see Israel Hayom curtail its booming weekend edition, in return for Yedioth providing Netanyahu with positive coverage.

Mozes initially approached Netanyahu regarding this arrangement, which was never actualized. On the contrary, Netanyahu effectively blocked legislation that would have greatly benefited Mozes by making the distribution of free newspapers such as Israel Hayom illegal.

This entire incident is mere chatter. Netanyahu claims that he never intended to proceed with Mozes' plan, so there is no case.

All in all, we have Netanyahu accepting large quantities of cigars and champagne as gifts from close friends. It may be unpalatable but is it a crime?

There have been new developments in relation to the Bezeq investigation over the last few days but as this is only at a preliminary stage of the police investigation, it is impossible to assess its implications. One would hope after what has transpired that this latest "discovery" remains grounded on factual evidence without leaks and wild conspiracy allegations.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit will ultimately determine how to proceed with the police recommendations, in a process that could stretch on until mid-2019.

I predict that Netanyahu will be exonerated on the serious charges of bribery and fraud which, based on what has been disclosed, remain unsubstantiated. But until the charges are resolved, they will cast a shadow on his leadership.

The question remains whether Mendelblit will feel pressured to offer a token indictment of breach of trust in relation to the gifts. While this would not necessarily involve a criminal charge, or result in any prison sentence, it could force Netanyahu's resignation. This would be a travesty; no prime minister was ever under such scrutiny.

In the absence of evidence of a crime, distaste for Netanyahu's hedonism is insufficient grounds for a breach-of-trust charge, let alone the more serious charges. The prime minister's future should depend only on the judgment of the voters.

Most Israelis, whether they like or despise Netanyahu, recognize that replacing him now could have catastrophic consequences. At this critical period, with crucial threats looming, no one is capable of stepping into Prime Minister Netanyahu's shoes.


Isi Leibler's website can be viewed at www.wordfromjerusalem.com. Email: ileibler@leibler.com. 


Isi Leibler

Source: www.israelhayom.com/opinions/dysfunctional-politics-disgraceful-behavior/

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