Analysis

Israel's Watchdog Proves Himself a Spineless Servant of Netanyahu

By allowing our wealthy prime minister to take a loan from his multimillionaire friend, Spencer Partrich, Englman has yet again shown he is a rotten and weak gatekeeper

Matanyahu Englman at a legal conference, Airport City, September 3, 2019.
\ Ilan Assayag

In his first weeks on the job, State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman is already turning out to be a rotten and weak gatekeeper, a submissive slave to the one who handpicked him for the role.

After deciding to stop investigating corruption cases, after instructing his staff to include positive remarks in their reports, after delaying the release of volatile reports until after the election, now we’ve reached a peak: Granting the approval sought by our wealthy prime minister to take a loan from his multimillionaire friend Spencer Partrich.

Instead of sending Netanyahu to a bank so he could take a loan on commercial terms like any other citizen, Englman is allowing the prime minister to entrench the relationship between capital and government clearly and firmly. After all, Englman will never be able to know, and apparently doesn’t care, whether this loan ever gets repaid. Neither he nor anyone else will be able to enforce the loan repayments or monitor them.

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With this move, Englman is paying back the man who pulled him out of anonymity and cast him in a role that he apparently isn’t suited for. The choice of Englman as state comptroller has topped a process Netanyahu has been overseeing for a decade – the weakening of the country’s gatekeepers by making them work for him instead of protecting the public interest.

In some cases (like the appointment of Roni Alsheikh as police commissioner), Netanyahu failed, and then conducted a systematic demonization campaign against his choice through his group of cheerleaders. In other cases (like Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit), he thought at first he was sitting pretty, but when the gatekeeper began making decisions that weren’t to the premier’s liking, his chosen one was marked as a traitor. To politicians and jurists, he has described the attorney general as a spineless man being dragged along by prosecutors.

Protesters vent their anger at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's alleged corruption near the official residence in Jerusalem last year.
Emil Salman

“He stopped talking to me,” former State Comptroller Joseph Shapira told Yedioth Ahronoth in an interview, adding that the ties between him and the prime minister were cut after he dared to publish the report on the doings in the Prime Minister’s Residence. Englman will be coddled for as long as he continues to make such weighty gestures toward Netanyahu.

The Knesset chooses the state comptroller. This process has led candidates to recruit lobbyists, woo central committee members and hang out with elected officials. In the investigation against Yisrael Beiteinu, one of the suspects, a lobbyist with ties to senior leaders, boasted about the key role he played in the choice of Shapira as state comptroller.

But none of those who conducted a campaign that included late-night meetings in the homes of activists and were then chosen for the post dared to pay in cash in the shameful way that Englman is paying the prime minister. His conduct demonstrates that the power to choose the next comptroller must be taken away from the politicians, so that such a fatal accident doesn’t happen again.

The problem is that Knesset members will never yield this power. Most of them are interested in having a position with the ability to seal the fate of elected officials and regulators and preserve an administration by means of a collaborator like the current comptroller.