The resignation of retired Judge Awni Habash as chairman of the permits committee in the State Comptroller’s Office ought to disturb every Israeli citizen. According to Habash, after the committee he headed had twice informed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he is not entitled to fund his legal defense with money from tycoons, he felt that the panel was put under political pressure to reverse its decisions. He did not elaborate.
Netanyahu had asked the committee, which deals with cases of potential conflicts of interest facing ministers, for permission to fund his defense against corruption charges with money from two American businessmen: his cousin, Nathan Milikowsky, and Spencer Partrich, both of whom gave evidence in Case 1000, the lavish-gifts case. The panel rejected his request in December, but Netanyahu refused to accept its decision and tried again in January. Late last month, the committee not only rejected his request for a second time, it ordered him to pay back money he had already received from Milikowsky, and to return expensive suits bought for him by Partrich.
Netanyahu’s attorneys decried “a scandalous decision, which denies the prime minister the basic right to legal defense,” and have petitioned the High Court of Justice to override it. At the same time, there was a report that Habash is heavily in debt due to municipal taxes owed on his Beit Hanina home, and questions were raised about his appointment to chair the permits committee.
Habash’s resignation is additional evidence that all of the State of Israel’s institutions have fallen hostage to a prime minister who will stop at nothing to remain in office. Without a trace of shame or responsibility, Netanyahu has the audacity to brazenly lie to the public, telling them that the leaders of the Kahol Lavan alliance (three former IDF chiefs, one of whom served under him, and another who was defense minister in his government) are supported by Iran – the same country which, as he never tires of saying on any international stage, he believes is Israel’s and Western civilization’s No. 1 enemy.
Netanyahu and his people incite, instigate, and exert political pressure – not just on the opposition, but also against the police, the judiciary, the media and the other gatekeepers, such as former Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, and Liat Ben-Ari, the prosecutor involved in the cases against the prime minister. Now it’s the turn of the chairman of the permits committee, Awni Habash.
The Israeli government is headed by a man who has no red lines, who will stop at nothing to get rid of anyone who may stand in his way. This time, it was the person who prevented him from taking millions to fund his legal struggle.
On Monday, the High Court of Justice is to hear Netanyahu’s petition against the committee’s decision. Irrespective of that, the state comptroller must investigate what political pressures were exerted on Habash that prompted his resignation.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.
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