Mon, Mar 05, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Benjamin Netanyahu is not ready to go just yet

The Israeli prime minister, like US President Donald Trump, is consciously sidestepping norms, but that is unlikely to cost him the support of his thoroughly anti-establishment base, The Associated Press’ Middle East editor writes

By Dan Perry  /  AP

Illustration: Yusha

It looks like a legal matter mainly, with police investigating, prosecutors deliberating, journalists digging and shady associates cutting deals — but in this season of scandal in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel, not unlike in US President Donald Trump’s country, what is beneath the surface might be more revealing still.

When Netanyahu and Trump meet today, they will share circumstances that are as strikingly similar as they are historically rare: two elected leaders who are at loggerheads with their countries’ establishments, holding on, despite scandals, to a base that, if anything, seems to delight in the angst being wrought upon many of the wealthy, the educated and the cultured.

In Netanyahu’s case, legal complications are mounting by the day, with four cases under investigation and counting, two sets of police recommendations to indict him for bribery, two states’ witnesses against him, and a grim collection of aides and other associates in detention or house arrest. Netanyahu is also suspected of receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts from billionaire friends and breaking the law while trying to engineer favorable media coverage.

An associate is suspected of trying to broker a deal on Netanyahu’s behalf with a judge in exchange for dropping a case against the prime minister’s wife. Another case involves suspected kickbacks in a massive deal to purchase submarines from Germany that reportedly might have benefited a Netanyahu relative. For good measure the story line also includes champagne, cigars, and side plots featuring his son joyriding to strip clubs at taxpayer expense and his wife screaming hysterically at an aide.

For your average politician in more decorous times, it would be tough to bounce back from, but Netanyahu, who was questioned by police on Friday before meeting with Trump at the White House today, is clearly determined to try to ride it out.

He might succeed: The battle lines are drawn, and people seem entrenched. Television footage on Friday showed special investigators arriving at Netanyahu’s residence and Israeli media reported that the prime minister and his wife were being questioned as part of an investigation into a corruption case involving Israeli telecom giant Bezeq Ltd.

Police later issued a statement saying that the couple “were questioned for a number of hours as part of an investigation” by police and the Israel Securities Authority.


For many Israelis, the most disturbing aspect of all is Netanyahu’s abandonment of the norms of governance. Beyond the cases being investigated as actual crimes, these include his decision to appoint an attorney general, the highest prosecution official in the land, from among his close associates, to use relatives and friends in sensitive government work, to agitate not just against the media and the opposition, but also against the police and judiciary, and to push the envelope on expenses, including on his private home.

There is a striking parallel with the US, where Trump has sidestepped numerous norms, including the tradition that presidential candidates release their tax returns, and that presidents clearly divest themselves of business interests while in office and do not denigrate the intelligence community or the media. There, as in Israel, some people welcome this shake-up of a system they do not trust, while others fear for the Republic.

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