Opinion

Netanyahu and His Band of Rabbis

The prime minister turned a well-known saying upside down, and the new one says: 'Buy yourself a rabbi and make yourself a friend'

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, December 28, 2017
Gil Eliahu

As the corruption multiplies, a unique routine of public debate has developed in Israel. With the beginning of every new investigation against a public figure, a blistering argument also begins around the question of when he must give up his hold on the udders of authority. At the very beginning of the investigation? After the police submit their recommendations? When indicted? Or maybe only on the way to the corral for the upper 1 percent of criminals?

The lenient clutch onto the “presumption of innocence” and emotionally declare that no sanctions whatsoever should be imposed on the suspect. The more strict claim that the suspect cannot carry out his job properly under the weight of the investigation, so he must abandon it immediately.

But there is a third approach, too, one that says the “presumption of innocence” is sacred, but must be balanced out by the “possibility of guilt.” Sometimes there is no choice but to deal with it. When and how much? The suspect himself must decide through his behavior, actions and mainly in the way he uses his authority while being investigated. If he is careful not to take advantage of it for his own needs, he can continue in his role. But if he harnesses it to his own personal wagon, then it would be proper for him to distance himself from his position.

Last week, so it seems, the suspect Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to demonstrate the effectiveness of the third approach. He invited a group of “religious Zionist rabbis” to his office and asked for their support in confronting those who have risen up against “the government that is concerned about the Land of Israel” and want to do away with it – in other words, Netanyahu himself.

As a comic break, it would be appropriate to say a few words about two of those invited. One, Elyakim Levanon, participated in some conference of right-wing religious Zionists many years ago, where he declared: “The moment has come to grasp the scepter. To return to the era of King David. To know that the rabbis’ role is not just to teach Torah, but to establish leadership! ‘The Kingdom of the Rabbis’ which will constitute the true government of Israel.”

Netanyahu actually complained to this putschist about the putsch they are trying to carry out against him Poor Levanon certainly did not understand what was so bad about that.

Another, Eli Sadan, is the head of a pre-military program in the West Bank. He is a shallow demagogue, chauvinistic and arrogant. At that same spectacle of sucking up, he told Netanyahu: “To say there is a problem that you received a cigarette, if only it wasn’t so funny, it would simply be an unparalleled scandal.”

Wondrous are the ways of amnesia. Suddenly the yeshiva head forgot the exact phrasing of the halakhic principle that says, “The law for a penny is the law for 100” (or all are equal before the law), and turned it upside down: The law of cigars worth hundreds of thousands of shekels in his words became the law for a single cigarette worth a penny.

What a miracle: The very next day it was reported that the government had decided to allocate another 40 million shekels ($11 million) to the settlements. Just a coincidence. Unrelated.

Netanyahu too, so it seems, also turned a well-known saying upside down. “Make for yourself a mentor, acquire for yourself a friend,” (Pirkei Avot 1:6) he turned into “Buy yourself a rabbi and make yourself a friend.”

He bought rabbis and made them his friends. Exploited his authority for his own personal needs and used public funds to buy himself a few more months in power, and in doing so proved that this is exactly the case in which the “possibility of guilt” overrides the “presumption of innocence.”

So Netanyahu must go. He must be kept away from authority and the purse strings before he manages to buy the rabbis of Shas, to order the elimination of Arnon Milchan, to declare war on France to distract the public or to sell a nuclear weapon to Iran to pay for his lawyers.

If he were an honest man, he would suspend himself. But he is not. It’s a shame.