Gambling on Israel’s Future — From Oren Hazan to Sheldon Adelson

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Benjamin Netanyahu with Sheldon Adelson, left Credit: Eyal Warshavsky / BauBau

“You have chutzpah! And for every false word you write we will meet in court!” shouted the spokesman for Knesset Member Oren Hazan (Likud) — or maybe it was Hazan himself on his spokesman’s phone — last week, when I asked him to confirm or deny that State Comptroller Joseph Shapira had examined his spending for the Likud Knesset primary, and 'saw it was bad.' Hazan’s responses, via text messages, may have been in written form but they were bursting with exclamation points, escalating in tone, and sent off at a frantic pace. It is hard to respect such a person. It’s hard not to snicker at him and hope for his downfall, not because of his casino-related activities in the Bulgarian town of Burgas, but because of his vulgar manner.

But we cannot extend this attitude of bemusement toward Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who aspires so fervently to bring the Oren Hazans of his party into line. It is Netanyahu who leads Likud, who called on the public to elect Oren Hazan and his ilk into the Knesset. Netanyahu was the one who pulled out “the Arabs are flocking to the polls"card so number 30 on the Likud Knesset slate would be voted in, and now he shouldn’t complain to anyone else. In fact, so far Hazan has proven to be much less flawed than Netanyahu himself. The prime minister’s cases were closed only because of a lack of evidence; his personal physician, who receives his salary from the government coffers, was convicted of tax evasion, and one of his ministers has served time in prison.

The great innovation in the Oren Hazan affair is that the word “casino” has become an obscene term. We must tell that to Sheldon Adelson. Could it be that as of today Netanyahu will disavow his patron, the American casino magnate? Will he ask to cancel his subscription to Israel Hayom, the daily that is supported by gambling money? What is permitted in Las Vegas is not allowed in Burgas? This must be asked, even if you believe — and we must believe — the insistent denials of Adelson in the face of the claims by a former employee in his casino in Macau, Steven Jacobs, that the executives of the company encouraged prostitution in order to draw customers.

With the exception of the prostitutes who were not in the Far East but may have been in Eastern Europe, the difference between Adelson and Hazan is mostly billions of dollars. Netanyahu is willing to be controlled by a wealthy American gambling tycoon, but delicately distances himself from the “Casinova” from his own party in the Knesset.

Even if we can still understand Netanyahu, stuck between the hammer and anvil, opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) is rapidly losing the remnants of the credibility of his claims to inherit the crown. Herzog is behaving as a gentleman sitting back in his easy chair, with tea and crumpets, in his hypocritical and imperial gentlemen’s club in London. This is not how you fight the never-ending battle over the fate of the nation.

Oren Hazan at a party from time before he was a politician. Credit: Ofer Vaknin

The Netanyahu government is a disaster. Its downfall using every legal method available is critical for Israel. If, in his lust for revenge, the MC (Member of Casino) Hazan decides to desert Likud and join the Zionist Union, or the Joint Arab List, he should be welcomed.

Herzog needs to encourage every move that will weaken Netanyahu and increase the chances of the government falling (which many ministers think will happen within six months) in order to establish a different government - or call early elections. But he is obsequiously ingratiating himself — mostly for the sake of television and what seems to him to be public opinion — and has instead volunteered to offset Hazan’s vote. In doing so he will make Hazan his own problem, while Herzog himself becomes the problem for Netanyahu’s opponents.

Oren Hazan adds a bit of color and entertainment to the political scene. Whether the Netanyahu government continues to rule — or collapses— is a matter of life and death. And the echoes of thunder reverberating on the horizon are not the sounds of an opera production.

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