Editorial

Return the Money, Netanyahu

Haaretz Editorial
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to attend a conference in Jerusalem, January 8, 2020. Credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
Haaretz Editorial

At a time when a million unemployed people, self-employed people and owners of collapsing businesses have been waiting months for economic assistance, while the prime minister blames “the bureaucracy” for the delayed payments, the state continues to spend its time on the financial needs of Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife.

Ten days ago, the permits committee in the State Comptroller’s Office rejected Netanyahu’s request to obtain money from billionaire Spencer Partrich to finance his legal defense. Netanyahu had been seeking an exemption from the rules of ethics that apply to all cabinet members, which forbid them to accept money from private individuals or entities. Basing itself on an opinion by the attorney general, the committee informed him that accepting money from Partrich would violate the Civil Service (Gifts) Law.

The committee also ruled that Netanyahu must return just $30,000 of the $300,000 he received from his cousin Nathan Milikowsky. It concluded that the rest of this money was given to finance Sara Netanyahu’s defense in her criminal trial, and therefore, in its view, the conflict of interest rules don’t forbid its acceptance.

The permits committee’s decision on that issue is controversial. Even if the Asher Committee rules governing conflicts of interest don’t prevent private individuals from giving money to a cabinet member’s spouse, the Gifts Law and provisions of the penal code relating to bribery certainly do forbid it. Thus, even if it’s not the permits committee’s job to recover the $270,000 that Netanyahu admits to receiving from Milikowsky for the ostensible purpose of covering his wife’s legal fees, it is Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit’s job.

Moreover, the conclusion that 90 percent of the money sent by Milikowsky was used for Sara Netanyahu’s legal defense is shaky. It doesn’t rest on any serious examination of the facts, and it defies logic. The prime minister’s wife can’t hide behind the definition of a private individual to whom the rules that govern civil servants don’t apply.

It’s enough to recall that even her lawyer, Yossi Cohen, insisted she was a prominent public figure during his arguments in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, in which he tried to convince the judges to accept a plea bargain with her. Moreover, did Sara Netanyahu join a “diplomatic delegation” to Guatemala as a private individual? And is she entitled to fire civil servants employed at the prime minister’s official residence as a private individual devoid of any governmental powers?

Any way you look at it, the money the Netanyahu family got from Milikowsky would seem to be forbidden. Therefore, the family must repay all of it rather than just a portion.

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

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