One new Israeli party in particular has garnered headlines with its accusations of massive political corruption among the political elites. It is Eretz Chadasha (“New Land”), a party founded to take on the “tycoons,” or oligarchy, that controls Israeli commerce and politics. The party’s founder is Eldad Yaniv. He’s made ten short videos presenting evidence of the bribery and skullduggery he alleges. He comes across as a brash, even boastful, but well-informed insider. Which indeed he was at one time. He was a political advisor to Avigdor Lieberman and Bibi Netanyahu. Most recently he served as chief of staff to Ehud Barak, the defense minister. There’s no doubt when you serve in such a role you know much, if not everything, about not only the figure you serve, but many of the wealthy and powerful with whom he rubs shoulders.
Apparently, he had a change of heart and decided to move from the dark side to the light. He’s either a very brave man or a fool because Israel tends to dislike truth-tellers. They end up either discredited, prosecuted, or in a few rare and happy instances, in the Knesset.
The videos (only two of which are subtitled in English, alas) expose some amazing dirt about Israel’s top leadership. Before I delve into the contents I should say that while the charges are explosive and convincing, there is no smoking gun. There is no evidence. There are only allegations and stories of events at many of which Yaniv was present. I personally cannot vouch for the accuracy of a number of the accusations (though I can vouch for one of them which I note below). But I think many of them ring true and should be read by this audience and others.
The Party’s campaign manager, Itay Adam, (Twitter @iadam) who is an Israeli marketing manager and internet entrepreneur, told me that the Israeli media are ignoring Yaniv and Eretz Hadasha, hoping they will simply go away. It’s an attitude I’m quite familiar with when I read what the IDF military censor has to say about me and my reporting. None of the major newspapers were willing to accept political advertising (Yediot, Maariv, Yisrael HaYom). The only outlets that would were Mako and The Marker. This bears out Yaniv’s claim that the Israeli media do the bidding of the oligarchs at the expense of the interests of Israeli society. They don’t want the Israeli public to hear this message.
Adam believes his Party will fool all the Israeli pollsters and send several of those on its list to the Knesset, where they will prompt major investigations into the wrongdoing of those Yaniv targets. After that, they’ll help topple the status quo. I’ve been watching Israeli politics too long to hold out much hope of that happening. And I think there’s always a danger of the cult of personality: gurus who claim to have the system all figured out and can explain it to you over a drink at a bar.
Further, I’m leery of Israelis who divorce their political analysis from the Occupation. This is the ultimate corruption in Israeli society and it underpins much of the worst that is happening inside that country. For many, it is easier to focus on the domestic agenda and the fate of Israel’s Jewish citizens. But those who do this leave out half the sky.
But maybe I’m just a cynic and curmudgeon. What is needed is precisely the energy that Yaniv brings. Israeli youth are even more cynical than I am. They know how rotten the system is without anyone telling them. A new type of campaign capitalizing on social media and the hope of the social justice movement might be what it takes to bring out some of those hundreds of thousands who pitched tents and protested on Rothschild Street in Tel Aviv. As for Yaniv, Israel is rotten and bless anyone who wants to topple the apple cart and throw out the rotten ones.
Even the Knesset elections committee objected to the Party’s slogans attacking the economic élite, claiming there was no such élite (“there is no proof that Israel is indeed governed by the wealthy”) and that making such a claim amounted to fraud. Any Israeli reading this claim, even a member of the élite, would have to laugh at the transparent fraud of such a statement. Israel is one of the economically-stratified countries in the western world. An OECD survey found it to have the fifth highest disparity between rich and poor among all countries within its purview.
The overall title of the YouTuve videos and political campaign is “The Method.” In English, it might be better translated as “The Fix.” They’ve gone viral on YouTube with 550,000 views for all ten of them. For Yaniv, the method denotes the general practices used by the political and economic elites to impose control and maintain power over the economy, media, and political arena. Among the tycoons singled out in the videos are Martin Schlaff, financier of a number of Israeli politicians, Noni Mozes, owner of Yediot Achronot, Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu and Barak.
Here is a summary of the most damning and shocking of the charges Yaniv offers:
One of Israel’s most powerful political fixers is Ofer Eini, the chief of the Histadrut. Among his vices is that he plays high-stakes poker. The stakes are so high they involve tens of thousands of shekels in losses. Some of the players need to finance their losses through loan sharks.
Eini also closes political deals and decides which MKs get which ministerial portfolios. Once, Ehud Barak was negotiating with Ehud Olmert about forming a government and Olmert had placed a call to Barak. But Barak couldn’t return the call till he spoke to Eini, because he couldn’t tell Olmert what was agreed and who would get which ministerial job until Eini told him. But they couldn’t find Eini. Why? Because he was playing cards with his buddies.
Martin Schlaff is the shady Austraian financier who fled the country for Austria, after being accused of giving a $3-million bribe to Ariel Sharon. He supported Ehud Barak but also bankrolls Avigdor Lieberman. His money will help ensure Lieberman will become Israel’s next defense minister.
Among the other sterling qualities that recommend him: he’s rumored to have been an informant for the East German Stasi. In 2010, his New York business partner was found dead either by suicide or murder.
Schlaff used to run the Jericho casino before the Israelis closed it during the Intifada. Yaniv predicts the next government, under the direction of Lieberman, will reopen the casino and its profits will return to Schlaff’s pockets.
Bibi Netanyahu has his own “Martin Schlaff” called Sheldon Adelson. So Schlaff has had to lay low for a few years. But his relationship with Lieberman allows him to return to a position of power within the State. Along with the closure of Lieberman’s legal file, Schlaff’s file will also be closed and he too will return to Israel without the burden of the criminal investigations which had burdened him.
The two are so close that when Lieberman travels he often visits Schlaff in Vienna. When there, they both visit a place called “Babylon” where you buy women. Schlaff and Lieberman engage there in group sex.
When Bibi created his past government he appointed Yaakov Neeman to be Justice Minister. Before then, Neeman had been an attorney. He represented Lieberman and his daughter and set up for them the very companies now being investigated by the police for money laundering and other corrupt practices. It’s no wonder that these charges were dismissed by the government, because not to do so would involve Neeman directly.
It’s no accident that after his appointment, Neiman named Yehuda Weinstein to be the government’s chief legal advisor. Bibi and Neeman needed to ensure that Weinstein would not upset the apple cart and allow the Lieberman investigation to take down not just Lieberman, but Schlaff, Neeman and the others involved.
Bibi and Sara invited their chosen candidate for chief legal advisor, Yehuda Weinstein, for an “audition.” Though we don’t know what was said during the audition, Weinstein’s first act did after winning the job was to fire the investigator running the inquiry into Bibitours and other alleged financial improprieties of the Netanyahus.
In the midst of the 15-year investigation against him, Lieberman persuaded a police investigator to amass incriminating information against the head of the Investigations Unit, Moshe Mizrahi, who headed the inquiry against the minister. It appears that the senior police officer, who maintained wiretaps on a number of high level political figures, had cut some corners and violated police procedures. After the incriminating information was brought to the then-attorney general, the investigations chief was removed from his job and replaced.
That’s why the investigation took so long and why Lieberman was able to control it as he has. Even Weinstein understands what happened to the Investigations chief and doesn’t want to end up like him. The police underling who made the case against Mizrahi was sent with his family by Martin Schlaff to Canada, where he now lives.
In 2000, Ehud Barak was prime minister and fighting an election which he’d expected to win in a walk against Ariel Sharon. Barak’s chief political advisor came to him and told him how grave the situation was. Barak’s response was: “Maybe now’s the time to take out Barghouti.” They didn’t kill Barghouti and Barak lost the election.
One of the chief reasons for Operation Pillar of Cloud and the assassination of Ahmed Jabari was to protect Bibi’s right flank from just the sort of success Naftali Bennett is enjoying in the election polls. Because Barak didn’t have as good a political advisor as Bibi (his is Arthur Finkelstein), he lost.
Yaniv calls Sarah Netanyahu the real prime minister. When she met Yoram Cohen, the Shin Bet chief she said: “I appointed you. There was a struggle between you and the Gruzini [“Georgian”–Yitzhak Ilan] and I made sure you won. Now don’t screw us like Yuval Diskin did.” This story confirms my reporting,which had predicted Yitzhak Ilan would be the next Shin Bet chief. The reason he lost out at the last-minute was due to the direct intervention of Sara Netanyahu on behalf of her favorite, Cohen.
Yaniv says the only social phenomenon that has threatened the dominance of the oligarchs is the J14 social justice movement of two summers ago. It frightened the tycoons and caused them to scurry, seeking ways to co-opt the organizers. That’s why Nochi Dankner, former owner of Maariv and Bank Hapoalim, arranged for significant donations or loans to two of the three leaders of the movement, Stav Shafir and Itzik Shmuley. This taints them and renders them less effective as future leaders and threats to the power élite.
In the most comical segment of the video series, Yaniv describes a phenomenon he and other Bibi insiders have witnessed: he keeps hundred dollar bills in his socks. In one case, a young woman who was being paid off the books asked him for her salary which hadn’t been paid in some time. He reached into his socks and pulled out some bills and paid her.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.