A New Avenue for Corruption

Haaretz Editorial
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Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a news conference at the prime minster office in Jerusalem, August 13, 2020.
Haaretz Editorial

Israeli television news on channels 11 and 13 reported Monday that Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit doesn’t plan to investigate allegations concerning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s financial ties to his cousin Nathan Milikowsky. If these reports are true, this decision lays the groundwork for corrupt norms to become entrenched in Israeli politics for many years to come.

Netanyahu and his immediate family received, by both overt and covert means, more than 13 million shekels ($3.8 million) from Milikowsky in the past 13 years. The lion’s share of this amount was from the sales of shares in the Texas-based company Seadrift that Netanyahu bought in 2007 at a discount of around 90 percent from a sale of the firm’s shares not long afterward. Netanyahu earned a sevenfold profit when he sold the shares for 16 million shekels in late 2010. He sold the shares when Seadrift was acquired by GrafTech International, a supplier to the German conglomerate ThyssenKrupp, which is at the center of a case involving alleged corruption in Israel’s purchase of naval vessels – a connection that also hasn’t been investigated.

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Other means by which Milikowsky transferred money to the Netanyahu family include a $200,000 loan to Netanyahu’s daughter, Noa Roth, the repayment of which has not been established; cash-filled envelopes that were delivered for years and about which Netanyahu and Milikowsky were both questioned as part of a case involving alleged illicit gifts to the prime minister from businessmen; a 10,000 shekel donation to an organization that runs a pro-Netanyahu online news site; and a $300,000 gift to cover Netanyahu’s legal expenses, which Milikowsky agreed last year to increase to as much as $1 million.

It’s completely unacceptable to claim that this unprecedented transfer of millions of shekels to an elected politician raises no suspicions just because the giver is a relative. If it weren’t, every errant politician would launder his prima facie bribes through relatives. The message that would be sent is that such conduct is permissible and doesn’t even raise enough of a suspicion to warrant opening an investigation.

Quite aside from the constant fear that Netanyahu’s incessant attacks on the legal system and the attorney general have succeeded, it’s also possible that the reports in question were a trial balloon sent up by senior Justice Ministry officials. If the response from the public, the media and senior prosecutors isn’t too harsh, the decision not to investigate will become a fact.

That is why an unambiguous outcry against any such possibility must be raised now. Senior prosecutors involved in the case must object vociferously, while the public, the legal community and the media must speak out loud and clear against a decision whose practical implication would be another avenue for institutionalizing corruption.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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