Benjamin Netanyahu isn’t a corrupt person. Even today, he’s an outsider among the local tycoons; he’s never gone to receptions and cocktail parties hosted by the local elites. He inherited this from his father, who suffered all his life from exclusion. But as the British historian Lord Acton once said, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Therefore, 11 years in power almost inevitably leads to acts that border on corruption.
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This is human nature. At first, you don’t take anything for yourself. After all, you came to serve the public, and your sole goal is to do good for Israel’s citizens. But as time passes, you see all the “dwarves,” the “idiots,” the “zeroes” around you making big bucks, while you remain with the same gross monthly salary of 48,000 shekels ($12,500), which is just 20,000 shekels net, and you go crazy. How is it possible that they’re making millions, while you’re left behind? After all, they understand far less about the world than you do.
After his temporary break from politics in 1999, many businessmen contacted Netanyahu and urged him to embark on global ventures with them. They promised him the sun and the moon. They knew there aren’t many people who understand the workings of the global economy as well as he does, who have his rolodex of personal connections around the world and his vast knowledge of defense.
But the political bug hadn’t left him, so he returned to politics in 2002 as foreign minister in Ariel Sharon’s government, and then as finance minister. Yet he always felt that he was getting peanuts compared to what he was worth.
Therefore, when a businessman gave him a present – expensive cigars, pink champagne or gourmet meals – it seemed like small change to him, downright negligible in comparison to what he felt he was worth. And if there were those who financed overseas vacations and luxury hotel stays for him and his family, it seemed to him like peanuts compared to what he was giving them through his global analyses of the information technology and cyber industries.
And in this way, years passed, until he began identifying his own personal welfare with the state’s welfare. L’etat c’est moi.
Here, it’s worth pointing out just how wise the American system of government is. It limits the president to two terms – eight years and that’s it. In the second term, when the president knows he will have no third term, he can devote all his time to reforms and structural changes that benefit the country, without having to spend any time on getting reelected.
Here in Israel, by contrast, there are no term limits on the prime minister at all. He can be elected again and again, forever, and if he isn’t reelected, it’s considered a failure, even a dismissal from office. Therefore, from the moment he’s elected, he starts running his reelection campaign.
That is why the media is so important to Netanyahu, and why he views Noni Mozes, publisher of the daily Yedioth Ahronoth, as a devil who is out to topple him. And from there, the road is short to his meeting with Mozes in December 2014 to discuss an illicit deal by which Yedioth would moderate its criticism of Netanyahu in exchange for curbs on the competition the paper faced from its main rival, Israel Hayom.
The need to keep getting reelected, forever, has also made Netanyahu forget his democratic worldview and his support for the rule of law. That is why he issued a statement in favor of pardoning soldier Elor Azaria, even though this contradicts his values. When public opinion is moving right, when Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett is breathing down his neck and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid is threatening his job, he forgets all his principles and goes with public opinion.
The solution is to change the Israeli system of government to limit the prime minister’s tenure to eight years, and not a day longer. And meanwhile, here’s a bit of free advice for Netanyahu: Just resign. The criminal cases in which you’re embroiled keep piling up, from the Amedi case in 1999 to the excessive spending at the prime minister’s residences to gifts from businessmen to your entanglement with businessmen Arnon Milchan and Mozes. All of these together have reached a critical mass that no longer enables you to govern.
So get up and go. Eleven years is too long for any democracy. Remember: Absolute power corrupts absolutely.