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The Striking Parallels Between Netanyahu and Nixon

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FILE PHOTO: Then U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon
FILE PHOTO: Then U.S. Vice President Richard NixonCredit: Bradley Smith / CORBIS

This week, movie theaters began screening “The Man Who Brought Down the White House,” which tells the story of Mark Felt, a former associate director of the FBI. For decades he remained anonymous, though his mysterious nickname, “Deep Throat,” was known to all. Only shortly before his death, in 2008, was Deep Throat’s identity revealed.

The incident at the heart of the movie occurred during America’s 1972 presidential election. Five “plumbers” broke into the offices of the Democratic Party to wiretap party officials’ conversations, and got caught. The White House did everything it could to distance the president from the crime. The president’s aides were recruited to obstruct the investigation.

But one brave man obstructed the obstruction. Felt leaked information about the crimes committed by Richard Nixon and his aides to the Washington Post.

True, Nixon won the election, declared “I am not a crook” and asserted that he had never broken the law. But the FBI was peopled by English-speaking sons of light. American versions of senior Israeli cops like Roni Alsheich and Meni Yitzhaki and Coresh Barnoor and dozens of others tore Nixon’s protective cover to pieces.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, November 27, 2017.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Aide after aide was caught, and confessed. John Dean. John Mitchell. Bob Haldeman. John Ehrlichman. And still, the president claimed that there would be nothing, because there was nothing.

But while attending a reception in summer 1974, some time after I arrived in Washington as Haaretz’s correspondent, I heard diplomat Zvi Rafiah telling Ambassador Simcha Dinitz over the phone that “Nixon will resign tomorrow.” The president’s Republican Party had abandoned him. Will it be possible to screen a Hebrew version of “The Man Who Brought Down the White House”?

It’s impossible to avoid the comparison. Benjamin Netanyahu didn’t know anything, but Ari Harow and David Sharan and Avriel Bar-Yosef and David Shimron and Isaac Molho are already entangled, some up to their ankles and some up to their necks. Most of the prime minister’s close working environment appears to be mired in the criminal swamp. This is the basis for the glut of legislation that is currently sweeping Netanyahu’s Likud.

A bill supported by the smoking ruins of Likud’s coalition partners would forbid publishing the police’s recommendations on whether to indict Netanyahu or close the cases against him. This bill is unworkable; who would honor that prohibition? Social media, which will receive the leaks? The international media?

But MKs David Bitan and David Amsalem know that publication of the police’s recommendations in the investigations against him worries Netanyahu, so they passed the bill in first reading for his sake, and for his sake alone. There’s no better proof of this than the thuggery with which MK Benny Begin was ousted from the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee just because he wanted the law not to apply to Netanyahu. Nor is there better evidence of Likud’s wretched situation than the fact that even MKs like Yehudah Glick, Gila Gamliel, Tzipi Hotovely and Dr. Yuval Steinitz didn’t raise an outcry over the direction in which Amsalem, Bitan and Yoav Kish are dragging the ruling party.

The bill to ban publication of the police’s recommendations is just one of many. Netanyahu gave it top priority after he failed to pass an even worse bill – one that would have banned the investigation of a prime minister suspected of taking bribes. That bill, too, was meant to save Netanyahu. Just like the delusional ideas of forcing the attorney general to investigate all leaks from police investigations and jailing any journalist who publishes such leaks for a year.

These bills are particularly awful because they are meant solely to serve the ruler. Legislation tailored for individuals, as I recall with dread from Prof. Yehuda Bauer’s courses at Hebrew University, is generally enacted only by the very worst regimes.

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