Israeli Election Coverage, Part V: Scandal

The Israeli government has called for a general election to take place on April 9, 2019. Accordingly, I’ve decided to continue my series on Israeli politics. It is available as a video below, but if you can’t watch or would prefer not to, a summary has been provided further down. Additionally, feel free to discuss or ask questions in the comments, being mindful of site rules regarding hate speech, threats, or personal attacks.

In the previous episode, we talked about national defense, and how it’s usually the main issue guiding Israeli voters. This election may be the exception, because the main issue seems to be the Prime Minister himself, Benjamin Netanyahu, and particularly the legal scandals embroiling him, his family, and members of his cabinet. I can’t get into every one of these, but will touch on the major investigations. By and large, they involve political corruption, which has become more and more prevalent in Israel as the country has become wealthier and as growing wealth inequality has created a class of oligarchs capable of buying politicians.

Yaakov Litzman-Malka Leifer Investigation: Malka Leifer is an ultra-Orthodox woman living in Jerusalem. Previously, she worked as a school principal in Australia, where she is no wanted for 74 counts of sexual misconduct against minors. An investigation has opened into whether Yaakov Litzman, Deputy Health Minister and head of the ultra-Orthodox party United Torah Judaism, made threats to health officials compelling them to declare her mentally unfit for extradition.

Aryeh Deri Tax Evasion Case: Aryeh Deri is the Interior Minister of Israel and head of the ultra-Orthodox party Shas. He had previously served as Interior Minister under Yitzhak Rabin, during which he was later discovered to have taken bribes. Deri was indicted, convicted, served 22 months in prison, returned to politics, became Interior Minister again, and is now recommended for indictment for ₪2 million in tax evasion.

Sara Netanyahu Residence Affair: In 2015, an investigation began against Sara Netanyahu for misuse of public funds following reports that she had used state money to maintain the Netanyahu family home in Caesarea and employ additional “official” service staff. This in addition to a civil suit against her by PMR service staff who claim she verbally and psychologically abused them for entertainment purposes. Netanyahu’s defense team says she was unaware of any regulations she may have violated, and that she ignored the text of that regulations on the grounds that they were boring. She is currently on trial.

Case 1000, Packer-Milchan Bribery Affair: In 2013, Billionaire Hollywood film producer Arnon Milchan, an Israeli national living in the United States, admitted that he had previously worked as an international arms dealer, jeopardizing his US visa. Milchan appealed to Prime Minister Netanyahu directly to assist him, both by drafting legislation that would lighten Milchan’s tax status as a returning citizen, and by directly lobbying US Secretary of State John Kerry to renew Milchan’s visa. In exchange, Milchan is alleged to have given Netanyahu at least ₪1 million in various gifts including cigars, wine, and jewelry for Mrs. Netanyahu. This case also involves similar pay-for-play from Australian billionaire James Packer. Police have recommended that Netanyahu be indicted in this case. Netanyahu’s legal defense currently rests upon the belief that these gifts have been overvalued by police and thus do not constitute a bribe.

Case 2000, Bibi-Noni Scandal: In 2007, American right-wing benefactor Sheldon Adleson founded Yisrael HaYom, a free tabloid newspaper dedicated to defending and promoting Netanyahu. It is believed that Netanyahu has some editorial control over the paper. In 2016, Arnon Mozes, owner of the country’s top newspaper Yediot Aharonot, recorded and publicly released a phone conversation in which Netanyahu promised to pass legislation limiting the circulation of Yisrael HaYom if Yediot Aharonot began covering Netanyahu’s administration in a more flattering light. Police have recommended that Netanyahu be indicted in this case.

Case 4000, Bezeq-Walla Affair: Bezeq is a major telecommunications oligarchy in Israel. It is alleged in this case that Bezeq majority-shareholder Shaul Elovitch entered a quid-pro-quo agreement by which Netanyahu would influence the Knesset to approve a merger between Bezeq and cinema monopoly Yes in exchange for more favorable coverage in Bezeq’s news organization Walla! [exclamation point theirs]. Netanyahu’s son Yair may also be involved, though he is similarly in legal jeopardy concerning his support of the American Alt-Right following the attacks at Charlottesville. Police have recommended that both Prime Minister Netanyahu and Elovitch be indicted in this case. Netanyahu’s legal defense is that Walla!’s coverage did not become more favorable, and that advisors who have testified against him are “snitches,” which he considers antithetical to Israeli values.

Netanyahu has also attacked the justice system, police, American Jews, George Soros, and “feiknyuz” of conspiring against him and his family for decades, and last month made a public address demanding the “legal right” to interrogate and intimidate witnesses against him.

Police cannot indict the Prime Minister themselves; instead that order must come from the Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit. Following the recommendation to indict in Case 4000, early elections were called. It is believed that Netanyahu called these elections in the belief that Mandelblit would be unwilling to violate political norms and indict him during the election process for fear of appearing to interfere in politics. However, it is believed that the charges against Netanyahu and the evidence therein, the majority of which is still sealed, is sufficiently damning that failure to administer justice during the electoral season would itself be an undue influence on the political process.

Accordingly, it is widely speculated that Netanyahu will be indicted in March.