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There's Still Time to Question the Netanyahus

Raviv Drucker
Raviv Drucker
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Former Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara following the announcement of exit polls in Israel's parliamentary election, Tel Aviv, 2019.
Former Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara following the announcement of exit polls in Israel's parliamentary election, Tel Aviv, 2019.Credit: Ammar Awad/Reuters/File Photo
Raviv Drucker
Raviv Drucker

Why did Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit decide to submit the new discovery materials to the Netanyahus’ lawyers even before Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu were questioned? An odd decision, to say the least. The former premier and his wife will read the full witness statements about the jewelry they received before being questioned about it, assuming that will even happen.

A few reasons for this: According to the new discovery, the first jewelry items for Sara were in fact bought by Arnon Milchan directly, in late 2011. In the event that the statute of limitations on the incident has expired, is there a point in investigating it?

The second event was in September 2014. Again jewelry, this time worth tens of thousands of shekels. But according to the new evidence, only James Packer, the Australian billionaire, was behind their purchase. Netanyahu is not charged with carrying out governmental activities on his behalf. If that’s the case, then once again – why bother to investigate?

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The third and most amazing event of all was the diamond bracelet, bought for $41,000 – “I got a discount,” bragged Packer’s assistant, who made the purchase – for the Netanyahus’ 24th anniversary (apparently 24 is now a round number). Packer bought it, and gave it to Sara when Netanyahu addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress on the eve of Israel’s March 2015 election. It would seem, once again, that if it was only Packer, it’s no big deal. No reason to investigate, we’ll send the defense the new discovery and avoid further delay of the trial.

Great arguments, but far from convincing. Firstly, the trial wouldn’t have been delayed dramatically had the police taken the Netanyahus by surprise and questioned each of them. After all, he’s no longer prime minister; they could have been called in for questioning from one day to the next; the whole thing would be over in two days. The media briefings that speak of a six-month delay of the trial sound bogus.

Secondly, the new statements from Milchan, his driver and Hadas Klein, his assistant, as well as from Packer’s assistant may establish a significant expansion of the scope of the favors that Milchan gave to Netanyahu. The request for the anniversary gift was directed toward Milchan, who passed it on to Packer – and promised to share the expense. As it turns out he presumably did not pitch in, but it’s reasonable to assume the Netanyahus thought he helped pay for the pricey bauble. According to Klein’s testimony, Sara asked to exchange the bracelet because her husband had told her it looked “Romanian.” In other words, Netanyahu was aware of the gift, and probably its approximate value as well.

On more than one occasion in the course of the corruption cases against Netanyahu, when investigators confronted him with new suspicions he tripped himself with embarrassing falsifications. In the Yedioth Ahronoth quid-pro-quo affair, for example, he denied having had any conversations with publisher Arnon Mozes, claimed that no recordings of the conversations existed and that he certainly did not make any.

It’s hard to escape from the feeling that Mandelblit’s decision stemmed from Netanyahu’s strident campaign against him, which got under the attorney general’s skin. He gave the Netanyahu family too many breaks. There was no reason for closing the cases against Sara Netanyahu – certainly not in the Bezeq-Walla quid-pro-quo affair. A close reading of the new discovery certainly proves to Mandelblit once more that the charges against Netanyahu do not represent even a fraction of the payoff enterprise that operated in the prime minister’s official residence.

When Sara asked to exchange the jewelry set she received from Packer, she explained that she already owned a similar one. Wonder who paid for that one. When she asks Milchan for a gift, she explains that Ron Lauder already gave her something. Packer’s assistant said that every time he came to Israel he brought a luxury purse costing thousands of shekels, at Sara’s request. Klein testified that the biggest gift Milchan gave was to pay for the travel, accommodation and wages of an expensive American consultant – to write speeches for Netanyahu.

It’s still not too late for Mandelblit to question the Netanyahus as possible criminal suspects. Little would come from their testimony now, but it would at least give Mandelblit the option of amending the indictment to make it more severe.

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