Analysis |

Netanyahu's Hysterical Response to Bribery Recommendations Shows He Senses Noose Tightening

What matters in Case 4000 is not Bibi's wild speeches but the phrase 'a relationship of bribery' between the PM and the businessman ■ What will he do next? It seems Netanyahu himself doesn't know the answer yet

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech before lighting a menorah during the start of Hanukkah, December 2, 2018.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech before lighting a menorah during the start of Hanukkah, December 2, 2018.Credit: AFP
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

“I don’t know who the next police commissioner will be,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a speech to activists from his Likud party. “But he’ll have a very tough job of rehabilitation to do. The public’s faith in the police isn’t at an all-time high.”

Actually, nobody knows who the next prime minister will be, but he’ll have a huge rehabilitation job to do. He’ll have to repair democracy, stop the witch hunt against the legal gatekeepers, return sanity to the system, clear the corridors of power of corruption and corrupt people, and end the culture of lies and incitement, of sowing hatred and division.

Does Netanyahu care about anti-Semitism?Credit: Haaretz

>> What's at stake for Netanyahu after police recommend bribery charges | Explained

Netanyahu seemed panicked, on the verge of hysteria, at his party’s Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony in Ramat Gan Sunday night. He devoted a long speech to current events and spent a considerable portion of it attacking his investigators and outgoing Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich. Then he discussed the facts of Case 4000 as he sees them: There was nothing wrong with the decisions he made as communications minister regarding Bezeq, the corporation owned by Shaul Elovitch, his good friend and, if the Israel Police have their way, a codefendant in the case.

But all this was irrelevant. The premier is allowed to lash out at Alsheich; it makes good headlines. But it has no legal significance.

>> For Netanyahu's supporters, bribery recommendations only serve to support his narrative | Analysis

The phrase “a relationship of bribery” between the politician and the businessman, backed by countless pieces of evidence of all types, is what matters. The documents, the money, the taped statements are what will talk, not the wild, aggressive speeches by a serial suspect who feels the noose tightening around his neck.

Like a drowning man grasping at straws, Netanyahu pulled out everything he had – and it wasn’t much – to stigmatize his investigators as biased or corrupt in the best case and as criminals in the worst: the dubious police investigation of senior Israel Defense Forces officer Gal Hirsch; Alsheich’s hiring of former Labor Party activist Lior Chorev as his media adviser; and so on and so forth.

Netanyahu fired in all directions – “crazy claims,” “a clear conflict of interests,” “a completely tainted process,” “tendentious leaks” and “there will be nothing because there is nothing.” The audience was enthusiastic, the Knesset members nodded in agreement.

>> Read the Haaretz investigation that started it all: The Israeli news site in Netanyahu's pocket

But the ball is already in the prosecution’s court and will eventually land on Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit’s desk. The decisions will be made, or so at least we hope, on the basis of the evidence, not on the weeping and wailing.

Netanyahu and his wife, the eternally oppressed Sara, were obsessed with getting favorable coverage from media outlets that aren’t necessarily among the country’s most influential. And this obsession apparently led him to the criminal conduct described in the police’s conclusions. His actions are suspected of enriching Elovitch to the tune of 700 million shekels ($190 million).

Eventually, the public will become acquainted with the testimony and tapes provided by the two men who turned state’s evidence – then-Communications Ministry director general Shlomo Filber, who is now presenting himself as an innocent lamb, a paragon of integrity; and Nir Hefetz, the Netanyahu family’s media adviser, who left a path of destruction in his wake everywhere he went.

The main question is what Netanyahu’s goal is. There’s no doubt that he sees being prime minister as a flak jacket. In his view, he must be a sitting prime minister when the time comes for his pre-indictment hearing with Mendelblit – and preferably, following an election in which he has received a new mandate from the public to rule. That’s the first hurdle in his path.

After that, will he opt for a convenient plea bargain, or will he prefer to go to trial? He himself probably doesn’t know yet.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu is tightening his grip on his submissive party and his governing coalition. On Sunday, the High Court of Justice gave the government another extension – presumably the last, but who knows? – of the deadline for enacting a new conscription law. There are now an extra six weeks, until mid-January, to vote on the bill.

At that point, either the Knesset will be dissolved and a new election will be called for mid-May, or the government will drag on for another two months, until the Knesset’s spring recess, and the election will be held in September. The decision will be made by one man only, based solely on what he believes will best serve him in his legal battle.

Likud Knesset members and ministers, some of whom are already on edge over the delayed round of cabinet appointments, will vie with each other over who can express the most support for the serial suspect. Most have been careful not to deviate from the prime minister’s talking points. The phrase “selective enforcement” has recurred again and again, as have accusations that the police “picked its target in advance” and so forth.

Even those ministers who normally exhibit a façade of statesmanlike behavior have come out looking ridiculous with their vapid remarks. “I’m certain there’s no basis for the police recommendations,” declared Science Minister Ofir Akunis. Certain? On what basis? “I’m certain the attorney general won’t accept the recommendations,” added Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel in a tweet.

Let them fawn. They’re in favor of a loyalty to royalty law.

Another recurrent motif has been the assault on Alsheich, who ostensibly chose to end his term as police commissioner with publication of these recommendations. Unfortunately, this transparent spin has even crept into media analyses. The pundits sat in the television studios with grave faces and rebuked the commissioner: Why didn’t he publish all this a week or two ago? How scandalous.

Naive viewers could easily have been persuaded that two issues of equal weight lie in the balance – the suspicions against the prime minister and his wife, on one side, and the timing of the recommendations’ publication on the other.

The timing of all this is fishy? Could be. The police chief is vindictive? Perhaps. But all of that is dwarfed when compared to suspicions pending against Netanyahu in three cases – and this one is the most serious.

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