Opinion | Israel’s ‘Teflon’ Prime MinisterFour flimsy and ridiculous scandals won’t bring Benjamin Netanyahu down.
For all the differences between Israeli and American Jews, one thing is uncannily similar: the daily headlines lambasting their current political leader.
While the Donald Trump era has brought a new level of hysteria to U.S. political discourse, the attempts to topple Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by the seemingly weekly revelation of yet another corruption scandal have only slightly dented his popularity. According to an October 5 poll by Israeli television’s Knesset Channel, when people were asked, “Have the publications on Netanyahu and his family on the various investigations against them changed your opinion of him?” 64 percent said no.
With so many investigations and promised indictments, why is the prime minister’s popularity still so high? Part of it is certainly the convoluted nature of the allegations. The more closely one examines them, the more unbelievable they become.
First was Meni Naftali, the Netanyahus’ housekeeper, who in 2014 sued the State of Israel, the Netanyahus and the Office of the Prime Minister for a million shekels (about $260,000) because, he alleged, Sara Netanyahu wasn’t nice to him. She complained to him at 3 a.m. that he brought milk in leaky plastic bags instead of containers. She made him reset a dinner table because an unclean awning had been opened above it, raining down dust. He said she made him return bottles to get the deposit and then pocketed the money, and that she threw a vase with old flowers on the floor, demanding fresh ones. Most of all, he complained she didn’t want to keep him on after two years, as she’d promised.
He won. The judge agreed he’d been mistreated and misled concerning the terms of his employment, but awarded him only about $46,000. The Israeli public, assailed for years by a relentless media campaign to paint Sara Netanyahu as a petty, haughty, money-grubbing domestic tyrant, sighed at this outcome. To topple Netanyahu is going to take more than deposits on Coca-Cola bottles.
Then there are the investigations of Netanyahu himself, dubbed cases 1000, 2000, 3000 and 4000.
• Case 1000 is an investigation of film producer Arnon Milchan’s giving Netanyahu cigars and champagne. I’m not kidding. Well, it also involves allegations that Milchan gave Sara Netanyahu substantial gifts and got billionaire James Packer to invite Netanyahu’s son on vacation junkets. Police have actually interviewed Milchan for this “crime.” What these gifts accomplished for the givers isn’t clear.
• Case 2000 involves a taped conversation between the prime minister and his nemesis, Yediot Acharonot publisher Arnon Mozes, which seems to indicate Netanyahu’s willingness to negotiate a ceasefire in that newspaper’s hurtful headlines, particularly about Sara Netanyahu, in exchange for Netanyahu’s help in advancing legislation that would rein in the free right-wing newspaper Yisroel Hayom—funded by his billionaire friend Sheldon Adelson—which has seriously cut into Yediot’s circulation and profits. Recently, American-born Ari Harow, Netanyahu’s trusted chief of staff, agreed to serve as state’s witness in this case to avoid jail time in a separate case not involving Netanyahu. For the average Israeli, there doesn’t seem to be any crime here, only a shrewd attempt by Netanyahu to get Mozes on record about his journalistic bias. As for Harow, people feel sorry for him, knowing he must have been direly threatened to betray his longstanding friendship with the prime minister.
• It is Case 3000, also known as the Submarine Affair, that has given Netanyahu’s political rivals the most hope. It involves allegations of serious wrongdoing, bribery and personal gain, but the prime minister is not a suspect. Michael Ganor, an Israeli lawyer representing German shipbuilder ThyssenKrupp, is being investigated on charges that he engaged in bribery to secure a multimillion-dollar submarine contract for his client. Ganor too signed an agreement with police, agreeing to testify against other suspects, including David Shimron—Netanyahu’s personal lawyer, adviser and cousin, and also Ganor’s attorney—who is suspected of lobbying Israeli Defense Ministry officials on the submarine deal. Shimron denies he did anything. Stirring the pot, former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon—who left the Netanyahu government with a great slamming of doors—allegedly told police that Netanyahu had urged a cancellation of a previous submarine contract, presumably to clear the way for the deal with ThyssenKrupp.
• Last and probably least, in Case 4000, State Comptroller Yosef Shapira says Netanyahu failed to disclose information regarding a friendship with Shaul Elovitch, who is a controlling shareholder of the communications company Bezeq.
As someone who has actually met Sara Netanyahu, a working woman and school psychologist involved in many charitable causes, I find the allegations of extravagance against her hard to swallow. Having visited the residence, I can testify (under oath without any plea deal) that it is an elegant dump desperately in need of renovations, from its peeling blue Formica kitchen to its faulty electrical wiring that often leaves the house with no electricity or heat, as it did on the day I interviewed her in 2015.
I would say that the most promising way for Benjamin Netanyahu’s political rivals to effect regime change would be at the polling booths. I suspect the same can be said for the rivals of the current American president.
The public, cognizant of media agendas, is not likely to storm the barricades for allegations that seem flimsy at best and ridiculous at worst. Not with unemployment at 4.8 percent and a per capita income that the World Bank puts at $37,400, while neighboring Jordan’s is at $8,980 and Egypt’s at $11,110. Not with terrorism fatalities at only 13 so far in 2017, far less than the parallel numbers under Netanyahu’s predecessors, not to mention the cumulative toll during the Oslo Accords period (1993-2000) of 1,548 Israelis injured and 207 killed.
Granted, the Netanyahus are not universally beloved. But after the last political debacle that opened the doors to a terror tsunami, Israelis like myself are wary of bandwagons, and happy to leave well enough alone.
Naomi Ragen is a novelist and playwright living in Jerusalem.