Million Dollar Bibi

"I acted," Benjamin Netanyahu declaimed last night, using the slogan that had been uttered laboriously during hours of long, late-night meetings, "for the state, not at the expense of the state." Then came the magic formulas: "smears," "interminable attacks," "my wife and I," "an organized and methodical campaign."

At the side of the Likud chairman at the very non-luxurious hotel in Ashkelon sat most of the party's MKs, stern-faced, like crows on a power line, with mournful countenances. What were they so sad about? For Bibi and his wife Sara? For their party? Perhaps for themselves and the quality of the accommodations they get on their own PR trips abroad? Or perhaps they expected to see a receipt, a bill, a printout that would refute the allegations of Channel 10's investigation. There were none.

Last night the name of the millionaire was revealed who was so generous with his credit card for the sake of Mr. and Mrs. Netanyahu: Joshua Rowe of Manchester.

The question of whether Netanyahu committed a crime - violating the law concerning receipt of gifts - or merely acted unethically, will be examined soon. But one can hazard a cautious guess that his standing will not be hurt, and might even be helped: Likud voters must have been telling themselves last night with more than a little jealousy mixed with admiration: Wow, Bibi, way to go! You got thousands of pounds sterling out of that Joshua guy, you saved the state money and you also stuck it to the Arabs in the way that only you can. Only our Bibi can do it!

One Internet user coined the perfect word: "Nehantanyahu" (a play on the Hebrew word for hedonist). Meretz may make a big deal out of the story in its next election campaign, but who else would dare to pick up the gauntlet: The candidate from Tel Aviv's luxury Akirov Tower apartments (i.e., Defense Minister and Labor Party chairman Ehud Barak), the candidate with the eclectic collection of real estate and the billionaire friends who nearly bought Bank Leumi (Prime Minister Ehud Olmert)? My guess? Neither one.

In Israel, lifestyle issues do not affect voting patterns. During the Labor primaries, Barak was forced to respond to more than a few accusations concerning his lifestyle. When his votes were counted, it became clear that most supporters came from economically disadvantaged development towns in the country's periphery.

Maybe Netanyahu was too quick to sue Channel 10 for slander. Does he really want to take the witness stand - with Sara, too - and give a detailed accounting of his spending abroad - and not only in London: who paid each time, who provided the funds, whether each trip was approved by the Knesset Ethics Committee, whether every time that Sara joined him it was by the book. After all, it is obvious that at some point this suit will go out with a whimper.

After the reconciliation between Netanyahu and MK Silvan Shalom a few months ago, the two announced a few future Likud "campaigns." One was supposed to be the "corruption campaign." Here, too, one can cautiously venture that it will never get off the ground, and that if it does, Netanyahu won't be leading it. There has to be a line drawn somewhere.

A week ago Kadima and Likud were battling over which was the true ideological successor to Menachem Begin. Not many people remember, but after he resigned Begin found himself without a roof over his head. He had no savings and nowhere to go after he left the Prime Minister's Residence. Friends rented an apartment for him. In light of the latest scandal, it can be said - with certainty, and not cautiously - that neither Olmert nor Netanyahu are Begin's successors.