Opinion

Netanyahu’s 61 Partners in Crime

The parliamentarians in his coalition are dispatched to the media to explain why it’s so easy for them to live with corruption

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks during an opening session at the Knesset October 15, 2018.
AP/Sebastian Scheiner

In memory of Yossi Sarid

With the announcement of the police recommendation that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be indicted for bribery, the spectacle of coalition members prostrating themselves was to be expected. Their abject self-degradation for the sake of another temporary shred of power came as no surprise. Still, it was a depressing circus to watch, a stark example of the depth of the rot that has spread in Israel during the decade of Netanyahu’s rule.

Other prime ministers never asserted like Netanyahu did that public trust in the police is “not at an all-time high,” nor did they rush to impugn an organization for which they bear direct responsibility. But such distractions are all that the prime minister has left. The evidence is much harder to deal with.

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In Case 4000 alone, the police have recordings and WhatsApp messages between Netanyahu and Shaul Elovitch’s people, the testimony of two former Netanyahu associates turned state witnesses, the testimony of the Walla website CEO and countless testimonies from the site’s employees about huge regulatory benefits given to Bezeq and Elovitch. To counter all of this, Netanyahu pulled out an opinion piece in Globes (which the former communications minister claimed was “research”) and an “investigative report” on the right-wing Mida website. Only by a stroke of good fortune were we spared testimony from Sheldon Adelson as a character witness.

No business in the country would keep an employee with such a preponderance of evidence arrayed against him, even if he swore that the New Israel Fund and the police chief were conspiring against him. But this is our situation right now, thanks to the 61 members of the coalition. This is all that remains of Israel’s 34th government: Netanyahu and the dwarfs.

The prime minister’s corruption is moral rot that threatens to infect the entire body public if we don’t cut it off. The rot is spreading and hurting everything around it. It has turned coalition MKs into total doormats. One after the other, they are dispatched to make media appearances and explain why it’s so easy for them to live with corruption. The rot is hurting Walla employees, it’s hurting the taxpayer whose money went to the benefits that Elovitch got, and it’s hurting the public that is exposed to propaganda in the guise of news.

In Case 1000, Netanyahu is accused of granting government benefits in exchange for a regular supply of cigars, jewelry and clothing. In Case 2000 and Case 4000, Netanyahu aimed higher, straight at the heart of Israeli democracy. The media is one of democracy’s guardians and Netanyahu used his position to turn media outlets into another Pravda, just a government mouthpiece.

It’s been five days since police submitted their recommendations. Netanyahu is counting on the public’s attention deficit. He knows it won’t be long before something else comes along to divert it. But our prime minister is a suspect in three separate bribery cases, and if we let this pass it means our government’s rot has reached the citizens too, and that we no longer have any expectations of our government. These are Third World norms that we should not abide.

This week marked three years since the death of Yossi Sarid. What he said upon his retirement from political life is still apt today: “I am leaving politics in the same shirt in which I entered it,” he said. “No stain has adhered to it. No blemish has adhered to it. If someone were to present my shirt to my father and ask, ‘Is this your son’s cloak?’ he would recognize it and say, ‘It surely belongs to my son.’ And he would greatly appreciate the fact that his son did not stain the shirt.”

Unlike Yossi Sarid, Netanyahu has not only stained his shirt, he has stained the shirts of the 61 MKs who volunteered to serve as his flak jacket. Some are proud, worthy and smart people, but all are now stained, all are his partners in crime.