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Netanyahu, Admired by the Second Israel, Links Himself Only to Tycoons

Sami Peretz
Sami Peretz
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Supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chant slogans and hold up signs in support of him during a rally in Tel Aviv, November 26, 2019.
Supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chant slogans and hold up signs in support of him during a rally in Tel Aviv, November 26, 2019. Credit: AFP
Sami Peretz
Sami Peretz

Dr. Avishay Ben Haim, Channel 13 News’ analyst on the ultra-Orthodox community, says, “The battle against the persecution of Netanyahu has turned into a battle for the soul of Israeli democracy and against the attempt to deny the Second Israel a role in the democratic game.”

He is thus adding another layer to the issue of the investigations against Netanyahu, one that does the premier a great kindness. His theory relies more on emotions than on facts. To those who wonder what Netanyahu has to do with the Second Israel – the country’s socially disadvantaged – Ben Haim says, “Netanyahu is the Second Israel’s great love; it is his largest electoral base. The attempt to deny identity politics is intellectually ridiculous.”

That they’re his base there’s no reason to deny, nor their personal affection for Netanyahu. Netanyahu’s Likud is powerful in the country’s outlying areas. But Ben Haim, with deliberate blindness, is talking about Netanyahu’s admiration among his voters, and is ignoring those involved in his legal entanglements: His associates Ari Harow, Shlomo Filber and Nir Hefetz, who turned state’s evidence against him; Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and former Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, religious Zionists whom Netanyahu appointed; and media and business tycoons like Arnon Milchan, Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes and Bezeq’s controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch.

Any way you look at these indictments, you cannot find even the slightest hint of a link to people of the Second Israel. These indictments involve hedonism and gifts from Milchan, the obsessive campaign for favorable media coverage; the tarnishing of political rivals (primarily from the right) and benefits he granted Elovitch and Bezeq.

According to the indictment in Case 4000, the Second Israel pays more for phone service because Netanyahu wanted favorable news coverage on Walla, then controlled by Elovich. Netanyahu effectively wanted coverage that would increase the Second Israel’s love for him, and was prepared to pay by hitting this constituency in the pocket, as well as hurting their ability to obtain copies of free daily Israel Hayom (he suggested to the paper’s owner, Sheldon Adelson, to reduce the paper’s circulation as part of his deal with Mozes). Ben Haim is limiting the needs of the Second Israel to the emotional realm – love of Netanyahu – as if prices and fair competition don’t interest them.

Ben Haim’s Second Israel sometimes includes the Likud Central Committee and sometimes the ultra-Orthodox. For example, he claims that academic degrees have become a prerequisite for the civil service in order to deny members of the Second Israel their share of the pie. Here the Second Israel suddenly shrinks to include only the Haredim, few of whom have degrees, while ignoring the hundreds of thousands of people who graduated since colleges began proliferating in the early 1990s. Many of them were born into the Second Israel but have joined the public and business sectors and thus the First Israel. Is it possible that from the moment they integrate they no longer interest Ben Haim? Are they no longer a base? Is there no value to social mobility and education-based advancement?

Ben Haim has a hard time reconciling the contradiction between the claimed persecution of “the great love of the Second Israel,” and past investigations that centered on senior members of the First Israel – Ehud Olmert, Avraham Hirshson, Haim Ramon, Danny and Nochi Dankner – along with representatives of the left before the 1977 upheaval. Even Yitzhak Rabin was forced to resign over a dollar account that was then illegal.

Ben Haim argues that the judicial system aims to undermine the entire political system, but “goes after representatives of the Second Israel more aggressively,” without successfully proving how. The Second Israel issue is worthy of a thorough debate, as is the state of the legal system. But attaching these issues to the Netanyahu investigations does them no favor. If there are any Second Israel victims in the Netanyahu story, they appear primarily in the chapter about the battered ex-employees of the Prime Minister’s Residence.

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