Is Netanyahu in Trouble? The Four Corruption Cases Surrounding Israel's Prime Minister

The latest developments in investigations into possible fraudulent conduct by Israel's prime minister, his confidants and his billionaire tycoon friends

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Authority in Jerusalem, April 23, 2017.
Prime Minister Netanyahu, in April. Mired in four investigations involving possible fraudulent conduct and conflicts of interest.

The prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, is current embroiled in four cases involving corruption allegations of one sort or another. The affairs have been dubbed Case 1000 (cigars, champagne); Case 2000 (positive coverage in the daily Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper); Case 3000 (purchase of submarines for the Israel Navy from Germany); and Case 4000 (Bezeq and Communications Ministry ties). While the investigations into the cases began as early as about a year ago, there have been quite a few recent developments. Here is an update of where things stand in each one.

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Case 1000

Netanyahu is suspected of accepting gifts from tycoons, mainly Israeli-born film producer Arnon Milchan and Australian businessman James Packer – in the form of cigars, champagne and jewelry – worth an estimated total of hundreds of thousands of shekels. Lately, there have been mounting suspicions that the relationships were mutual: While the premier accepted gifts from Milchan, he allegedly acted on his behalf in the Israeli telecoms sphere. Netanyahu claims he just accepted gifts from a friend, as friends do.

The police say the evidence they have shows that the supply of cigars and champagne was systematic, by means of couriers and code words, and that the gifts were driven by demands by the Netanyahu family. In this case, there may also be a conflict of interest between Netanyahu and his dealings with Milchan.

Case 2000

The police have tapes of Netanyahu negotiating with Yedioth publisher Arnon Mozes, in an apparent effort to skew the daily's coverage in favor of the prime minister. In exchange Netanyahu would supposedly help restore Yedioth’s status to the top of Israel's media industry by spearheading legislation that would hamstring Israel Hayom, the free newspaper owned by American casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson. Or, alternatively, perhaps the premier would convince his friend Adelson to restrict the freebie’s distribution.

Netanyahu claims he never meant to strike any real deal with Mozes – that he was pulling the wool over the media baron’s eyes. That he was talking nonsense. Accordingly, Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has set the bar for indictment quite high: He is demanding evidence that Netanyahu took specific action to make the deal with Mozes happen.

Here is where there have been recent developments. Adelson testified last month that Netanyahu asked him about a financial issue that was raised during the negotiations with Mozes – which begs a question: If Netanyahu simply wanted to fool Mozes, why involve the American billionaire at all?

Case 3000

A number of individuals have been arrested in this case; some were released to house arrest. One of them, Miki Ganor, is in negotiations to turn state's evidence, Channel 2 reported Monday. How is Netanyahu involved in this affair – involving the purchase of submarines from a German company? Simple: His confidant, lawyer David Shimron, represented the Germans’ agent in Israel. If Netanyahu knew that Shimron served as counsel for the representative of the Germans, then he may have had a conflict of interest. Netanyahu and Shimron both pressed, in parallel, to cancel the bidding process on the sub deal and to give it to the Germans – a move Israel's Defense Ministry opposed.

Shimron knew that he and Netanyahu were advancing the same agenda. Netanyahu, however, claims not to have known that.

In this case, the prime minister's problem isn’t the evidence, but the way things are beginning to look. Netanyahu’s crony Shimron was under house arrest, but has since been allowed to leave the country for a vacation. Another suspect, Avriel Bar-Yosef, had been Netanyahu's choice for the top spot at the National Security Council but withdrew his candidacy.

Shimron’s law partner Isaac Molho, Netanyahu’s envoy on all sorts of secret diplomatic and other missions, may also be involved in Case 3000. One report says Molho represented the premier in talks with the Germans regarding a sensitive issue that may could have had something to do with the subs. If so, Molho represented the PM while his law partner represented the Germans’ agent. Under these circumstances, it is hard to buy Netanyahu’s claim that he didn’t know of Shimron’s involvement in the deal.

Case 4000

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira says Netanyahu failed to disclose information regarding his personal friendship with Shaul Elovitch, a controlling shareholder of Bezeq, while the premier was dealing with no less than 12 issues connected to that telecoms monopoly. Twice Shapira asked Netanyahu about his ties to figures in the telecoms industry – and yet the prime minister neglected to mention either Elovitch or Milchan. In other words, Netanyahu allegedly made false statements.

Netanyahu is not a suspect in this case, although the attorney general could take action with respect to the apparently false declarations. Netanyahu, for his part, has claimed that he and Elovitch were little more than acquaintances, and thus it was not incumbent upon him to disclose their relations. Yet in an earlier statement in court, he explicitly stated that Elovitch had been his “personal friend for 20 years.”

Not only is Elovitch Netanyahu’s friend: He lavished positive media coverage on the prime minister when he owned the Walla News website. In October 2015, Haaretz reported how the site hid articles and changed headlines on items critical of Netanyahu – apparently based on orders from above. Moreover, while serving also as communications minister at the time, Netanyahu advanced Elovitch’s interests.

After the Haaretz exposé, Netanyahu was prohibited from having anything to do with Elovitch’s business dealings. The handling of him and his companies was left to Communications Ministry director-general Shlomo Filber, another Netanyahu confidant and former head of the Likud Party Central Committee. Filber is now suspected of systematically leaking ministry documents to Bezeq, accepting diktats from the company and even possibly altering the ministry's policies accordingly. State Comptroller Shapira recently wrote that he suspects Filber of having been a “captive regulator” – a sort of Bezeq agent at the ministry.

And if Filber is guilty, what has Netanyahu to do with that? Here is the long answer. Two days after his new cabinet was sworn in, in May 2015, Netanyahu fired the then-director general at the Communications Ministry, Avi Berger, by phone. Berger had been pushing a broadband reform that would have hurt Bezeq. That day pundits wrote that the main beneficiary of the firing was Shaul Elovitch. In any rate, after Berger’s dismissal, Netanyahu named Filber as his successor.

The short answer? Netanyahu is the one who planted the so-called agent.

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