They say cats have nine lives. But every cat eventually must come to the end of that ninth life and face mortality. In Bibi Netanyahu’s case, the end has drawn that much closer with increasingly clamorous revelations over the past few days of corruption, machinations and other forms of skullduggery.
In the past, Bibi has run through his nine lives worth of scandals and nothing has seriously touched him. But this is different. Those past scandals were individual and discrete. These new ones are concurrent and multiple. Israel is awash in a few new criminal terms–Case 1000 and Case 2000.
There’s the bespoke suits worth tens of thousands of dollars paid for by billionaire Ronald Lauder. Lauder was, at the time, the lead investor in Channel 10, which was in danger of losing its broadcast license. Amazing how a fine Brioni suit can make problems disappear. Netanyahu reportedly wanted the Channel shut down because (among other reasons) Raviv Drucker, its investigative reporter, had exposed major scandals involving him.
Then there was the pink champagne for Sara and Cuban cigars for Bibi from Hollywood mogul, Arnon Milchan, who himself had helped steal U.S. uranium for Israel’s first nuclear bomb. Then came the quid pro quo, with Bibi beseeching John Kerry to arrange for a 10-year visa for Milchan.
Let’s not forget Aussie media billionaire James Packer, who has numerous joint ventures with Milchan. The former paid for gourmet parties at the Netanyahu villa and treated Bibi’s son, Yair, to lavish hotel stays in Aspen and New York, along with jaunts on his private jet. What did Packer want? Why nothing of course. How could you dare speculate that Israel’s prime minister sought anything more than to rub shoulders with the world elite. Well, maybe there was one thing…Packer sought Israeli residency so he could shield his assets from the Australian taxman. Value: tens of millions in tax avoidance in return for hundreds of thousands in gifts. Not a bad rate of exchange…for Packer.
But the crowning glory of scandals is a meeting at which Netanyahu met with his media arch-enemy Arnon Mozes, owner of Yediot Achronot. A bit of background: Bibi and Sheldon Adelson conceived of Israel HaYom as the antidote to Yediot. It was the anti-Yediot. Prior to the former’s launch, Yediot was Israel’s largest daily. Though not antagonistic to Bibi, it was not in his pocket. It was too independent. Couldn’t be trusted to air the party line. So the American billionaire founded a free daily paper which would, they hoped, destroy Yediot and all other competition. It very nearly did. Maariv is gone–bankrupt and then bought for a song by none other than Sheldon Adelson! Yediot bled so much cash that Mozes carries it on his corporate balance sheet as a major loss.
At the meeting, Netanyahu had a proposition: he would arrange for Israel HaYom to reduce its circulation in return for more favorable coverage of Bibi. In particular, Bibi wanted to stop publication of an investigative story that implicated his own son in corrupt dealings.
The amazing irony is that both parties so distrusted the other that they each recorded the conversation secretly. It reminds me of two arch-enemies who meet for a drink to iron out their differences. While each has his back turned, the other puts poison in his drink. They each drink and die. That’s in effect what happened.
Bibi directed his then chief of staff, Ari Harow, to record the conversation. Harow was later himself investigated by the Israeli police for his own wrongdoing. In the course of that separate investigation, the police came upon the Mozes tape. That opened up an entirely new avenue to pursue Bibi. Which is where we are now.
Though the other corruption accusations are serious enough, it may be hard to prosecute them as crimes since there must be a clear quid pro quo. In the Mozes deal, there was a clearly defined quid pro quo. I suppose Bibi’s lawyers may argue that no deal was ever consummated, so no crime was committed. I’m not expert enough in Israeli law to know what constitutes a crime in such circumstances.
The State doesn’t have to convict Bibi in order for him to fall. It only has to indict him. Israeli law says that ministers must resign if they are indicted. That was how Ehud Olmert was finally toppled (remember those Slim Fast boxes full of S. Daniel Abraham’s cash?). We draw ever nearer to that point.
In Israeli political careers, there is a certain momentum that develops. If a politician outlasts his usefulness to the oligarchs or his own party rivals, but doesn’t lose at the ballot box, the scandals begin to creep ever closer. Eventually they develop an inexorable pace. Like the snowball careening downhill, they grow bigger by the second and sweep away all it its path. Bibi is on such a trajectory.
No one will mourn his political passing except perhaps his banker and stockbroker (or the guy selling Sara her favorite pistachio ice cream). And make no mistake that Bibi’s demise might change the political calculus in Israel. There is no difference whether Tweedle Dum or Tweedle Dee is prime minister. It makes no difference whether Yair Lapid or Isaac Herzog or Naftali Bennett are on top. It’s only a question of how quickly the train speeds down the track toward the inevitable crash. It may go slower under Herzog or faster under Bennet. But either way it’s barreling down, like Casey Jones, toward the end of the line with “trouble ahead and trouble behind.”
PressTV interviewed me today about the Masot UK scandal which I posted about yesterday. Here’s the video:
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.