It’s not news that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has planned an election campaign entirely focused on the criminal probes he’s facing. We also know that he was king of fake news and alternative facts since well before U.S. President Donald Trump even thought to enter politics. But the campaign that began on Monday night with Netanyahu’s cynical prime-time televised announcement was an insult to our intelligence.
Netanyahu’s statement, aired live on the 8 P.M. evening news shows, was the opening shot of an Instagram campaign designed to sell the Israeli public on the message that you can’t have a bribe without money. Oh come now.
Since that broadcast, the prime minister’s Instagram account has published a series of meme-style items that claim, among other things, that “A bribe without money is like sabich without eggplant” – a reference to an Israeli sandwich made with fried eggplant; “A bribe without money is like Rachel without Ross” – a reference to the TV show “Friends”; and, alternatively, “A bribe without money is like soccer without Messi.”
Let’s start with the alternative facts Netanyahu tried to sell us. He tried to characterize the fact that those investigating his alleged acts of corruption refused his demand to confront the state witnesses as something between mismanagement and a conspiracy, indicating that the police and prosecution intend to indict him at any price.
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First off, a suspect does not dictate the investigation. It doesn’t matter if you’re a crime boss Shalom Domrani, Yitzhak Abergil or Asi Abutbul, or if you’re Netanyahu – the investigators decide whether a confrontation is necessary. Not the person under interrogation.
The state witnesses had to give investigators concrete evidence supporting their testimonies – otherwise, they wouldn’t have been allowed to be state witnesses. Presuming the evidence exists, a confrontation between them and the suspect isn’t needed; indeed, it could be damaging.
Netanyahu’s demands to confront them may have been turned down due to concerns that this would push the witnesses to change their testimonies or not testify. Shlomo Filber, Ari Harow and Nir Hefetz were the premier's close confidants, and there have already been media reports that Filber underwent an agonizing period when deciding whether to turn state’s evidence.
From there, in what was perhaps an acknowledgment of suspicions that Netanyahu may have traded favors and influence in exchange for positive media coverage, Netanyahu tried to convince the public that there’s no such thing as a bribe without money. That idea – backed by what appears to be a concerted campaign on Instagram – is simply an insult to voters’ intelligence. Unfortunately, most Israelis know just what a bribe looks like: Surveys indicate that nearly half of adult Israelis have encountered a demand to either receive or accept a bribe.
We all know that bribes don’t just involve money. They can involve travel benefits, hotel rooms, gifts, efforts to promote someone’s interests, promises to appoint confidants to a municipal job, or even a donation to a charity run by the individual being bribed. Positive media coverage definitely could be considered a bribe, particularly for someone who thinks he gets bad press.
Or, in the words of Netanyahu’s campaign, “A bribe without money” is simply ... a bribe without money.