Benjamin Netanyahu is the fifth Israeli Prime Minister to be hit with corruption charges, and while his predecessors had mixed success in dodging those charges, Bibi has some tried and true tricks up his sleeve.
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL — Out of a total of 13 prime ministers that served since Israel was established in 1948, Benjamin Netanyahu is the fifth who has been accused of corruption. The Israeli police had opened files against Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert, and now Netanyahu. Rabin was forced to resign because of an account in a foreign bank in which it was reported he and his wife had a total of $3,000. Olmert served about 18 months of actual jail time.
According to an Israeli police report, Netanyahu extended political favors in return for gifts that he received, the total value of which is estimated at one million Israeli shekels, or about $300,000.
Petty corruption vs. crimes against humanity
There is no doubt that all Israeli prime ministers dedicated their lives to the state of Israel, and the five who were accused of corruption was no different. They killed or were responsible for the killing or expulsion of countless Palestinians; they were behind the theft and confiscation of enormous tracts of land from Palestinians; and they built Jewish only communities over the country, at the expense of Palestinians.
While some may consider this a list of charges in an indictment, in Israeli terms all of these actions represent true patriotism.
And yet these five prime ministers were accused, humiliated and criticized, some even brought down on charges that were relatively minor. For example, Olmert served as prime minister during the massacre in Gaza that was named “Operation Cast Lead.” As a result of that particular massacre, an estimated 1500 civilians in Gaza was slaughtered and countless were injured and made homeless. Yet he was never charged for that crime; he was charged for corruption.
The smallness of their corruption and the enormity of their crimes against humanity may point to the motivation behind the charges: not a desire for honesty or accountability but rather, politics. In an indignant and self-righteous address to the nation, Netanyahu reminded his audience of his career as a captain in Israel’s notorious special forces unit “Sayeret Matkal.”
He made sure to mention his participation in the 1972 commando operation to free the hijacked Sabena Belgian airliner. He mentioned his work as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, as minister of finance, and his years as prime minister: “all out of love and concern for Israel.”
He made it clear that the police recommendations to the Attorney General are based on falsehoods, that only half of all police recommendations actually end up with indictments, and that he did nothing wrong.
To Israeli eyes, a career of patriotism and successes
The list of Netanyahu’s accomplishments is, in fact, more robust than he offered: his 2015 controversial speech to the U.S. House of Representatives was a serious political victory for Israel and for him personally. He was welcomed warmly by the members of the House and Senate and received more applause and standing ovations than even the U.S. president himself receives during his speeches.
Even though then-President Barack Obama and several members of Congress were firmly opposed to Netanyahu’s appearance because of its proximity to the Israeli elections, yet he marched in like a Ceasar and won the day — and the following days as well, because the media in the U.S. and Israel were full of commentary and reports about him.
This appearance was an enormous personal victory and all but guaranteed his astounding victory in the 2015 Israeli elections. Under Netanyahu’s leadership, U.S. foreign aid to Israel increased and currently stands at close to $4 billion per year. And then, the most astounding accomplishment of them all was the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel.
There is more.
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In September of 2017, Netanyahu declared that Israel’s “relations with the Arab world have never been better,” and indeed the Saudi government had for the first time granted permission for a flight bound for Tel Aviv to fly over its airspace. This was actually preceded by an unprecedented gesture last May — when Donald Trump, flying on Air Force One, flew directly from the Saudi capital Riyadh to Tel Aviv. Relations with other countries like UAE are also warming up, and the common wisdom is that trade and security cooperation is already taking place between Israel and the Gulf States.
One would do well, however, to note that this relationship is forged between Israel and Arab regimes and that popular expressions of anger do surface from time to time. In October of 2017, during the Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly in St. Petersburg, Marzouq Al Ghanim, chief lawmaker and speaker of the Kuwait National Assembly, demanded that the Israeli parliament representatives leave the room, which they did.
Then in Tunisia, with which Israel has enjoyed warm relations for a long time, a law was proposed that would make it a crime to normalize relations with Israel. Tensions were so high that a Tunisian legislator ripped up an Israeli flag during a parliament session to push his demands for a law criminalizing relations with Israel. Still, as long as trade is good and profits are high, Netanyahu can boast this as an achievement.
Changing the subject then warming to the fight
In a clear attempt to divert attention from the corruption story and allow his constituents to see him the way he likes to be viewed — dealing with matters of grave national security — Netanyahu decided to act on the Syrian front, escalating tensions.
This unfortunate adventure cost Israel dearly: an Israeli F-16 fighter plane was shot down by a Syrian anti-aircraft missile and, though the pilot and co-pilot were able to eject, one of them is in critical condition.
However, the diversion worked and for several days barely a word was written about the corruption story in the Israeli media — only pictures of the prime minister with his defense minister and chief of staff in emergency mode.
Two developments seem to have quieted things on the Syrian front: a phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Israeli police decision to recommend that Netanyahu be indicted.
Now Netanyahu is poised for a fight. He knows that the attorney general’s decision to indict a sitting prime minister is not an easy one and that, regardless of how nonpartisan the attorney general may want to seem, in the end whatever he does will be interpreted as a political decision.
When it comes to politics there is no equal to Netanyahu in Israel. While there are sharks in the water waiting to see him bleed, they are but small fish compared to him.
Netanyahu is popular; he knows how to build coalitions; and, carrying as he does a list of unprecedented achievements as prime minister, it is unlikely he will be out of office anytime soon.
Top Photo | Protesters hold signs and flags during a protest against corruption and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Israel, Feb. 16, 2018. (AP/Ariel Schalit)
Miko Peled is an Israeli-American activist, author, and karate instructor. Peled authored The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine, and speaks at venues around the world.