Opinion

In His Defense, Netanyahu Calls Upon His 'Extended Family'

Netanyahu at the swearing in ceremony of the 22nd Knesset, October 3, 2019.
Ariel Schalit,AP

During one of his police interrogations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was outraged by the high value – hundreds of thousands of shekels – the police assigned the gifts he received from businessman Arnon Milchan. “I don’t know the amount, and while we’re at it, neither does he,” Netanyahu said. “I know in real time if I get a box of cigars from him. What – do I add it up? You said, ‘And what if he brings an airplane?’ If he were to bring an airplane full of cigars, yes, I’d know that.”

This wasn’t one of Netanyahu’s more successful arguments. After all, he knows that in the case dubbed Case 1000, he has a problem. It’s hard to legitimize the systematic, ongoing receipt of cigars, champagne, jewelry and other luxuries over the course of years.

Therefore, during his interrogations, he turned Milchan into his “brother.” If it’s okay for Bibi to accept millions from his cousin Nathan Milikowsky, then it’s okay to accept hundreds of thousands from his “brother.”

It’s pretty mortifying, then, that his “brother” said, during his own interrogation, that Netanyahu and his wife are a hedonistic couple who make incessant demands, and that he was revolted by them. But, hey, you don’t choose your brothers. Of perhaps you do.

Based on the evidence, Netanyahu had many “brothers” – Spencer Partrich, Zeev Rubinstein, Dedi Graucher, Robert Rechnitz and even Sheldon Adelson, who also apparently brought the prime minister boxes of cigars.

But in any event, once you’re Milchan’s “brother,” you aren’t supposed to intervene in all kinds of matters that could benefit him. That is the fundamental issue in this case: When does an act that involves a conflict of interests become criminal? That’s what Bibi’s attorneys will be focusing on this week, during his pre-indictment hearing.

They have collected information on cases in which, they say, the sin was greater but the punishment was more lenient. As director general of the Israel Lands Authority, Bentzi Lieberman took care of some issues related to his friend Nahum Langenthal, but you punished him less severely, the lawyers will argue. Binat Schwartz, head of the Interior Ministry’s planning administration, had a conflict of interests regarding matters that her husband was involved in, but you did almost nothing to her. Perach Lerner, Netanyahu’s senior aide at the time, did terrible things, but you let her off very lightly. So leave Bibi alone.

The problem with this thesis can be seen when one considers the explicit ruling handed down by the court in the case of Ehud Olmert. The former prime minister was convicted of breach of trust for intervening, while serving as industry minister, on behalf of clients of his friend and attorney Uri Messer. Olmert’s main argument was that a similar situation had already come up in the past, in a case involving yet another lawyer who represented him (Yigal Arnon), and the courts found no problem with it. So he assumed that this matter, too, wasn’t a problem. Moreover, he argued, his decisions regarding Messer’s clients were reasonable ones.

The court confirmed that most of his decisions were reasonable, but nevertheless convicted Olmert. Its explanation was that his ties with Messer were especially close: Messer held onto money for him, charged him reduced legal fees, and was both friend and adviser.

So if Milchan isn’t just a friend, but a “brother” – why did Netanyahu not have someone else handle issues in which he was involved? Even if it can’t be proven that what Bibi actually did was illegitimate, it’s still a breach of trust.

Olmert was given a relatively light sentence for breach of trust, but he didn’t receive any gifts from Messer. People convicted of breaches of trust that have involved financial benefit – like former Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov – have gone to jail for over a year.

And quite aside from the eventual legal decision, the evidence in Case 1000 is simply disgusting. The prime minister and his family are surrounded by rich people who must constantly lavish luxuries upon them.

In one of Milchan’s statements to the police, he praised Netanyahu for saving the life of Australian tycoon James Packer. It turns out Packer was going through a serious personal crisis and his health had deteriorated. “I asked Bibi to pick up a phone and call Jimmy to save his life,” Milchan said. “I and other people were worried; we thought that if we didn’t act quickly, his life would be in danger. Bibi was the only one who managed to convince him to come to Israel. I think that saved his life.”

But this statement could be read very differently if it turns out that Packer, too, was recruited to finance the ugly, hedonistic lifestyle of the prime minister and his wife.