The Defenders of Israeli Corruption

The wide-ranging suspicions against Benjamin Netanyahu justify investigation.

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Sara and Benjamin Netanyahu.
Sara and Benjamin Netanyahu.Credit: David Bachar

During nine months in 2011, according to the Finance Ministry, the household of Sara and Benjamin Netanyahu purchased fruit and vegetables to the tune of 50,000 shekels ($12,820), more than 5,000 shekels a month, from a single shop, whose prices are much higher, sometimes double, the market price. Yesterday tomatoes were going for 10 shekels and cucumbers for 12 there. The wastefulness, the greediness, the corruption and degeneration have reached their nadir.

And that goes for ministers, too. The government shelled out 20,000 shekels for five months so that at Ben-Gurion International Airport they would be assisted to pass through the duty free shop, security and passport control by “royal” service, which is what its name indicates. It should be checked whether the deal includes discounts to dignitaries and whether that is legal. An exploitative government of masters and servants, headed by one family.

There is no need to wait for the publication of the state comptroller’s report, in another week, to read figures that are factually incontrovertible, as opposed to morally so. The state itself has published them. Tens of thousands of shekels were allocated to ordering private meals from a certain Jerusalem hotel, wantonly sumptuous, because the treasury said that “the main reason to continue the exemption [from a tender] is that the prime minister and his family are satisfied with the service the hotel provides and that is their personal choice. In their office it is believed that their personal will and taste should be respected.” Marie Antoinette and her Louis could not have put it better.

Such people require very close scrutiny, but the person who was their defense attorney in 2000, and for all intents and purposes for the past five years, has suffered a severe optical illusion. Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, explaining to the High Court of Justice why more time should be devoted to a preliminary examination of the claims against prime ministers, and then avoid a criminal investigation because so much time has been devoted, tried last month to present prime ministers as the most vulnerable creatures in Israeli government. The real picture is the opposite. The head of High Court petitions in the State Prosecutor’s Office, Hani Ofek, presented, as his representative, a case so egregiously incomplete as to be misleading so as to persuade the Supreme Court that caution should be exercised when investigating prime ministers out of fear of “public and institutional implications” – that is a shake-up in government and perhaps early Knesset elections.

Precisely the opposite is right. As opposed to a minister, who is required to resign when indicted, the prime minister can expect long life at his post between investigation and resignation – after the draft indictment months will pass until the hearing, and more months until the attorney general makes a decision, years in the District Court, appeal to the Supreme Court, and only when everything is over and the conviction is conclusive, will the Knesset fire him.

The prime minister is the strongest of ministers; if he is politically vulnerable, that is another matter, none of the chief prosecutor’s business. Elyakim Rubinstein and Menachem Mazuz authorized some 10 investigations of prime ministers over 13 years, until the current zero investigations of Weinstein-Netanyahu. What is more, the moment the elections were moved up, the outgoing prime minister is like any other candidate.

This transparent trick that assists defense attorneys in preventing prosecution from submitting indictments is mentioning the psychological element in elite suspects. After all, without proving the psychological element, criminal intent, proof of the act itself is not enough to get a conviction; therefore it is best to forego the investigation because it will be hard to prove that the suspect understood the criminality of his actions. That is the big problem of the Netanyahus and of Weinstein in the bottle affair: Returning 4,000 shekels is admission of the offense, in the hope that the individual who confesses and pays will be treated mercifully.

But the wide-ranging suspicions justify investigation, and if taking state money to the private pocket continued after the return – even greater investigation. The Supreme Court, we may presume, will depart from custom this time and intervene in the considerations of the prosecution, if the latter is struck blind and tries to shelve the case.

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