Like all his plans that looked great on paper, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to manipulate the country’s law-enforcement system to prevent his wife’s indictment failed. With such heavy clouds looming over his head, it’s a wonder that an honest citizen like Avigdor Lieberman was prepared to join his government.
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Within an hour or so yesterday, Netanyahu suffered three blows. Their timing was purely coincidental; none of those delivering them was aware of the others. Their cumulative effect, coming on top of earlier blows, is destructive.
First, retired police commander Yoav Segalovich, the former head of the Israel Police investigations branch, announced that he was entering politics, joining Yesh Atid. As a man of the law whose integrity, fairness and professionalism is beyond reproach, his decision to join the camp of Netanyahu’s rivals marks a divide: Those who oppose corruption on one side, and those who benefit from it, or are indifferent about it, on the other.
Shortly afterward, Michal Dagan, the Labor Courts spokesperson, announced the decision by court registrar Kamel Abou Kaoud that Netanyahu’s wife Sara has no right to appeal the ruling by the Jerusalem District Labor Court in the suit by Meni Naftali, a former chief caretaker in the Prime Minister’s Residence, against the Prime Minister’s Office and others.
Netanyahu took a hit in one of her most sensitive areas – her wallet – as she was ordered to pay Naftali court costs of 3,000 shekels ($782). Coming on top of the fine of 4,000 shekels she was ordered to pay last week by the National Labor Court after her attempt to disqualify a judge was rejected, these judgments are starting to approach the cost of a night in one of those hotels the Netanyahus love to frequent on behalf of the homeland.
Sara Netanyahu, wrote Abou Kaoud, “Contributed, even contributed substantially, to the hostile work environment,” in the official residence, confirming the conclusion of Judge Dita Pruginin. Even if he had allowed her to appeal, Kaoud said, the chances of the appeal being accepted were slim, since the factual determinations were not going to be overturned.
But the Netanyahus’ armor can withstand these sharp jabs. That’s not the case with the police announcement Sunday that it was recommending that Sara Netanyahu be tried over irregularities in the management of the prime minister’s households. The allegations – fraud and breach of trust – are criminal allegations, not just moral or ethical ones. There could be an indictment and a trial, and possibly even imprisonment.
A decade ago, in the civil suits that emerged from earlier criminal allegations against the Netanyahus – the Amedi case, in which the Netanyahus allegedly promised a contractor that the state would cover the bills for private services rendered, a case closed by then-Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein – the prosecution determined that Netanyahu had acted illegally, was negligent toward the state, misrepresented the facts and tried to get the public purse to cover tens, and even hundreds of thousands of shekels of private expenses. If the prosecution believed that there were solid grounds for its allegations, it should have filed criminal charges. For some reason, those statements were left hanging and the Netanyahus evaded a punishment that may have been coming to them.
But as is often the case with those who are captives of their addictions, those experiences, which left them a hair’s breadth away from incrimination and disgrace, did not stop the Netanyahus from testing the law’s limits again. And so the cases involving the prime ministerial residences came to be: a two-pronged affair, consisting of the state comptroller (the bottle deposits, etc) and the complaints of Meni Naftali. As usual, Netanyahu got help from Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, who managed to place an obstacle between the investigation and the Knesset elections and candidate Netanyahu.
As Weinstein’s six years drew to a close, Netanyahu sought to buy some life insurance by appointing Avichai Mendelblit attorney general, thinking that like Rubinstein and Weinstein, he would keep the wolves at bay. When Mendelblit told the search committee that he would not be biased in the Netanyahus’ favor he lost his luster, but by then it was too late.
Netanyahu also sought to keep the police quiet by appointing Gilad Erdan public security minister, naming an outsider (Roni Alsheich) as police commissioner, and trying to force Maj. Gen. Meni Yitzhaki out as head of the police investigations department. But Yitzhaki is still there, and two months before reaching three years in the job – possible grounds for sending him into retirement – there was an announcement that the investigation into the residence cases was complete.
The police statement was unusual in that it named no names and did not refer specifically to criminal offenses. But it was clear from what was not said that the investigators had recommended charging Sara Netanyahu, Prime Minister’s Office deputy director Ezra Saidoff, and electrician Avi Fahima.