Two criminal cases are hovering ominously over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The first was expected, but the second came as a complete surprise. Bits and pieces of the first have trickled out; the second is still enveloped in thick fog.
- World Jewish Congress President Ron Lauder Testifies in Netanyahu Gifts Affair
- Netanyahu’s Investigator: A Sophisticated Organization Man
- Netanyahu Suspected of Receiving Perks From Businessmen, Report Says
In the first affair, which is smaller than the second, Netanyahu is suspected of systematically receiving favors and gifts from a number of wealthy businessmen, some of whom are close to the prime minister.
The "gift" reference is not to envelopes of cash or big bank transfers, but neither is it to symbolic gifts of little value, such as a bouquet of flowers for a birthday or spinning tops for Hanukkah.
The gifts in question are valuable, some valued individually at thousands of shekels. And there were many such gifts. The police suspect their cumulative value could reach hundreds of thousands of shekels.
It's reasonable to assume that Netanyahu will not deny receiving the gifts, but will instead argue that some of the tycoons in question were close friends and that there was no sin in receiving gifts from them.
But the circumstances of the story, which has been going on for years and has seeped into his terms as prime minister, are liable to undermine the wall of explanations that Netanyahu, his lawyers and advisers will build.
The giving of gifts between friends is normal and accepted. But it's unlikely that Netanyahu will be able to demonstrate a pattern of mutuality in front of his interrogators. He did not buy any valuable gifts for his benefactors out of his own pocket.
Additionally, at least a number of the instances in which he received gifts appear to suggest the abuse of his high national office: According to the evidence being collected, Netanyahu was not passive when receiving the valuable gifts. At times, he was choosy and made concrete demands.
If the current suspicions against him are fully verified, it will be difficult to understand how an intelligent and excessively cautious prime minister – one who saw his predecessors engulfed in depressing criminal affairs – could fall into the exact same hole.
His torturously financed jet-set lifestyle has haunted him since his first term. At the time, it transpired that the Prime Minister's Office had financed his purchases of cigars using taxpayers' money. A few stubborn prosecutors thought then that a criminal investigation should have been opened against him.
Their recommendation was ultimately shelved, but that episode – as well as the gifts and transport investigation that was opened after he left office in the late 1990s – should have caused him to give up cigars, or at least pay for them himself.
The case of Netanyahu’s alleged routine acceptance of gifts and perks from millionaires has been on Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit's table since the summer. As Haaretz revealed a week ago, the affair recently reached a turning point: The new evidence convinced Mendelblit to cross the Rubicon and give the police a green light to question Netanyahu as a criminal suspect.
That doesn't necessarily indicate impressive progress: The clues that led to the turning point have been known to the heads of the state prosecution and Israel Police for a while.
A peek at the Supreme Court ruling on former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's conviction should raise some concerns in the prime minister's residence: Justice Yitzhak Amit, for instance, wrote that a $4,717 night at an exclusive hotel, which was paid for by Olmert's friend Moshe Talansky, was not a trifle but constituted fraud and breach of trust. Similar remarks were made in the ruling by justices Salim Joubran and Uzi Vogelman.
The gifts and benefits affair is still modest in scale compared to the mega-suspicions leveled against Netanyahu's predecessors – the Greek island, Cyril Kern and Talansky-Holyland affairs.
However, the second, more mysterious affair linked to the prime minister is said to be far larger; reportedly, it will expose a new side of the prime minister's complex character.
Some people in the know claim it could be earth-shattering. "Stay near a doorframe in the coming days," one said to a colleague recently.
The details of the second affair have been laid out in front of Mendleblit and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan for many months now, with the public that voted for Netanyahu still left in the dark.
Top police officials believe that the details of the affair, which has been linked to another well-known figure, demand a criminal investigation.
It seems we will all be busy with the prime minister's smoking and fashion habits in the coming days, as well as with the special relations he has formed with tycoons playing Santa – and not only for the holidays.
But the gifts affair, which is actually the tale of a man who surrendered without a fight to his weakness of character, who loses control in the very place where it's so badly needed, is essentially only the promo, after which a more significant story will follow.
The prime minister's response to recent media reports, as communicated by his office, has been that "all the supposed affairs have proved baseless, and the same will be with the claims now being published in the media. We say again: There will be nothing – because there is nothing."