A month ago, the Jerusalem Municipal Names Committee hastily convened in a minimal forum of just four members, and approved new names for a number of streets. Among its most notable decisions was the naming a square in Kiryat Hale’om (the government office district near Givat Ram) after Shmuel Ben-Artzi. Ben-Artzi, the father of the prime minister’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, died in 2011 at age 97. He actually lived most of his adult life in Kiryat Tivon and in the 1980s received special recognition from that city.
Ben-Artzi’s name made the papers in the court case involving the Prime Minister’s Residence, when it was revealed that in the final months of his life, when he required home nursing care, he was moved to the official residence where one of the housekeepers was allegedly forced to care for him at the state’s expense. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and State Prosecutor Shay Nitzan chose to delete this charge from the indictment brought against Sara Netanyahu, and have since declined to explain why.
Ben-Artzi was a writer and educator, whose main focus was on biblical studies. The scope of his contribution to the study Israeli history on the national level is debatable. It’s likely that he would not have earned the honor of having a street named for him were it not for the family connection. After his death, Channel 20 produced a flattering film about him. On the other hand, the biographies of Benjamin Netanyahu that have come out over the years are peppered with stories about Sara’s childhood in the shadow of her father’s strictness, asceticism and miserliness.
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Ben-Artzi’s candidacy for the street-naming honor was first proposed in 2015 and gained initial approval despite the explicit opposition of the advisory committee headed by retired judge Jacob Turkel. At the meeting last month, a decision was made to put the move into effect once a suitable location was found. .
Two members of the Netanyahu family are already commemorated in the Kiryat Hale’om area: There is a street there named for Yonatan Netanyahu, the prime minister’s brother, who died while leading the Entebbe rescue in 1976, and a square named for Nathan Mileikowsky, the prime minister’s paternal grandfather. In the city’s far north, an interchange on Road 443 was named for Benzion Netanyahu, the prime minister’s father, in 2013. Benzion Netanyahu passed away in 2012, and that naming was accomplished by way of a shortened procedure that bypassed the legislation stipulating that three years must pass after someone’s death before the decision can be made to name a street for them.
In the case of Ben-Artzi, Eli Malka, the city’s legal counsel, instructed that the names committee not be convened last month, due to the proximity of municipal elections, scheduled for October 30. In fact, the municipal website shows the scheduled meeting as having been cancelled. But Deputy Mayor Yael Antebi decided on her own, at the last minute, to convene the committee, with a minority of members in attendance. At the meeting, held on September 4, the committee approved the naming of the square for Ben-Artzi. It also approved the naming of streets for the late journalist and minister Uri Orbach and for Sara Livni, who was a fighter in the Irgun and the mother of Zionist Union MK and former foreign minister Tzipi Livni.
Once it learned of the decisions, the municipality, at the behest of Mayor Nir Barkat, hastened to freeze them since they were made at a meeting that was convened contrary to the legal counsel’s instructions.
The proposal to name a street for Ben-Artzi was originally raised in 2015, by Herzl Makov, who has been director of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center since its founding in 1999. A resident of the Kfar Adumim settlement, Makov previously served as bureau chief to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and as chairman of the World Betar Movement.
Herzl Makov sent his application for the street naming on official stationery from the Begin Heritage Center, offering the following argument: “In his teaching, [Ben-Artzi] placed an emphasis on issues concerning Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish people… His legacy is deeply planted in the hearts of the many who were privileged to be his students, secular and religious alike, from all different ethnic groups, the entire Jewish people. I see great importance in naming a street for him in the city of Jerusalem in which he lived, on whose behalf he worked and which he loved.”
>> Read more: Everything in Jerusalem Named After the Netanyahus
The 2015 meeting at which the application was discussed was run by then-Deputy Mayor Kobi Kahlon, brother of Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon. The meeting’s minutes show that Kahlon proposed that the application be approved in spite of the opposition of the Turkel advisory committee. That body ascribed its opposition to the absence of a strong connection between Ben-Artzi and the city. Some of the participants sought to understand just what Ben-Artzi’s contribution to the city had been, but another one, City Council Member Eliezer Rauchberger, broke in: “I dare you not to approve… I dare you… I’d like to see you try…”
The application was approved, along with a decision to find a “relevant location” after one member asserted that the original site that was proposed, Givat Hatanakh, adjacent to the First Station center and the Khan Theater, was “not respectable” enough. The time since then was devoted to finding a site that would be acceptable to the family. Deputy Mayor Antebi said last month during an interview on the Dekel-Segal program on Army Radio that the final location was decided upon after consultation with the family.
Makov’s many roles
Herzl Makov’s connection with the Netanyahu family goes back many years. In 2012, Makov appeared in a story that was broadcast on the Channel 1 “Mabat” news program about Benzion Netanyahu, in which he shared glowing memories of the prime minister’s father. A year prior to that, at the end of the initial one-month mourning period for Ben-Artzi, the premier announced the renewal of the Bible study program at the Prime Minister’s Residence and said it would be named for Ben-Artzi. Makov was appointed to lead the study group and has continued to do so until now. The Ben-Artzi study group held its 11th meeting this past May, with the prime minister and his wife in attendance.
But Makov has filled another role since 2010: He is the public’s representative on the Council for Cable TV and Satellite Broadcasting. Accordingly, he was present at the meetings when the council discussed the merger of Bezeq, the telecommunications company, and Yes, the satellite-TV firm. That, of course, is the transaction at the center of the fraud investigation known as Case 4000. This deal, which was very beneficial for Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovich, was approved under pressure from Netanyahu, in spite of the position of the professionals in the Communications Ministry and contrary to the council’s own position right up to the moment that approval was given.
The critical meeting of the CCSB took place on June 23, 2015, on the last day on which it was possible for the merger to be approved. This too was a special session convened amid a busy timetable, “in wake of the minister’s request for an urgent consultation regarding the merger request,” the council spokesperson explained at the time. The communications minister at the time was Netanyahu.
Just to connect the dots: The person who filed an application in the name of the official memorial center that he heads, to have a street named for the father of the prime minister’s wife, is the same person who since the father-in-law’s death has headed the Bible study group that carries his name at the Prime Minister’s Residence, and is also the public representative on the body that hastily approved the Bezeq-Yes deal that is now the focus of Case 4000. Asked for comment, Herzl Makov made the following statement: “The connections that Uri Misgav draws are ridiculous and made up, and I would suggest another very important connection that he forgot, though there was a difference of years: Netanyahu and I were raised in the same movement and that’s clearly where the great plot was hatched. Now to the point – the Bible study program is a central project of the Menachem Begin Heritage Center. It began at the Begin Center before Ben-Artzi’s death, and after the Prime Minister’s Office contacted us, we were happy to expand the program and shift some of its activity to the Prime Minister’s Residence and to thereby resume a tradition that was begun by David Ben-Gurion and Begin.
“As for Bezeq, I am proud that I voted in favor of giving hundreds of thousands of customers the option of getting the ‘triple package’ [phone, TV and internet connection] and receiving a discount of dozens of percentage points in their communications costs. At the time, neither I nor even Uri Misgav knew that a possible conspiracy between Elovich and Netanyahu was being investigated, a suspicion that, by the way, has still not been proven. I want to stress that we at the Begin Center will continue to support the commemoration of other figures, of men and women who exemplified its values and help to strengthen Israel as a Jewish and democratic country.”