Editorial

Netanyahu's Man in the Comptroller's Seat

Matanyahu Englman after being elected as state comptroller, Jerusalem, July 1, 2019.
Emil Salman

The onslaught by the new state comptroller, Matanyahu Englman, against the gatekeepers of Israeli democracy knows no bounds. After the exposure of his plans to halt operations at the branch for special appointments and to “hold a dialogue” with bodies that are being monitored, the other day Channel 13 reported that Englman has now reprimanded the members of his office’s permits committee.

According to that report, Englman told committee members that they had “overstepped their authority” in determining that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must return any money he had received from people close to him. He told them “your job is to decide whether or not to grant permits and nothing beyond that.” And he topped it off with a reprimand: “Don’t run my office.” Following his remarks, committee members addressed a letter to him making it clear that his comments were unacceptable to them, and that they had not overstepped their authority.

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As we may recall, the permits committee have thrice rejected Netanyahu’s request to raise contributions from two American businessmen close to him to pay for his defense – his cousin Nathan Milikowsky and former business partner Spencer Partrich. Furthermore, the committee has ruled that Netanyahu must return the $300,000 he already received from Milikowsky without permission, and the suits he has received from Partrich.

In order to understand Englman’s anger at the permits committee, one must recall Netanyahu’s anger at the decision that the committee made. “There’s no limits to the hypocrisy,” was the response issued in Netanyahu’s name. “For three years the state has been running dozens of investigators and lawyers at a cost of hundreds of millions of shekels and now they’re complaining about Prime Minister Netanyahu receiving some help from his cousin in order to defend himself against all this.” The prime minister’s attorneys have sufficed with a simpler claim – that this ruling constitutes an “overstepping” of authority.

And now, half a year later, the anger has come to Englman’s doorstep, and the “overstepping of authority” that Netanyahu’s attorneys pointed to has become a whip in the hands of the new comptroller against permits committee members. It’s clear that Englman has swiftly internalized what his real job is, why he was sent to the fray and who the “system’s enemies” are that must be fought.

More than anything, the Englman farce is another manifestation – transparent but nauseating – of the way Netanyahu is consciously and consistently weakening the immune system of Israel’s democracy. He appoints a justice minister who hurts the justice system, a communications minister who hurts the media, a culture minister who hurts culture, and gatekeepers charged with guarding him and his pockets against the “state” that is persecuting him.

One can only hope that on September 17, the citizens of this same state will understand that such a person can no longer continue to serve as Israel’s prime minister.

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