Corruption Allegations Rock Israeli Government

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on November 19
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on November 19 (Photo by Reuters)

In the midst of his fourth-term, the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, faces immense legal and political criticism for his alleged involvement in three distinct cases of media and government corruption. While the investigation is ongoing, and no definitive action is expected to be taken either to indict nor exonerate the prime minister fully, the investigation has piqued the interest of Israelis and the global populace alike. Garnering instant attention from international media, the Israeli chief of police claimed that his department has acquired sufficient evidence of corruption to indict Prime Minister Netanyahu if Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit deems such action necessary.

The various accusations against Netanyahu have been named in chronological order: Case 1000, Case 2000, and Case 4000.

Case 1000

Beginning in 2007 and ending in 2016, Case 1000 accuses the Netanyahu’s—both Bibi and wife Sara, notoriously known for her lavish spending habits—of accepting gifts from regarded billionaire figures in both Israeli and foreign circles. Israeli film icon Arnold Milchan and Australian investor James Packer gave the prime minister gifts of cigars, champagne, and jewelry valued in a sum in the hundreds of thousands of shekalim (Israeli currency, 0.29 USD), with speculation over the precise quantity. Yet the contentious debate that still surrounds Case 1000 is whether or not Netanyahu requited the gifts with favor in his policies or political actions to benefit the billionaires in their respective pursuits.

The accusations have drawn comparisons to the 2008 trial of then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert–renowned for his remarkably generous two-state proposition ultimately rejected by the Palestinians, and faced with similar accusations of bribery and corruption, to which Olmert was sentenced to a year of jail time and a hefty fine. But as the Jerusalem Post noted, a crucial distinction between the two situations faced by the prime ministers is Netanyahu’s open recognition of the gifts from the billionaires, whereas Olmert denied any monetary exchange nor gift-giving. The point of contention in the case of Netanyahu is his avowed claims that he and his wife solely accepted such gifts courteously and as friends, rather than as a transaction of any kind and with the promise of favorable political terms for the billionaires.

Case 2000

Case 2000 divulges clandestine recordings of the prime minister, conversing with Noni Moses, editor of highly-circulated Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, notoriously known among the Israeli administration for their misalignment with Netanyahu and his nationalistic Likud party. Netanyahu reportedly made dealings with Moses to promote favorable coverage and the hiring of journalists particularly aligned with Netanyahu, in exchange for the cooperation of Netanyahu in supporting legislation to cripple a competing newspaper, Israel Hayom. The owner of Israel Hayom, Sheldon Adelson is regarded as a longtime friend and personal and political ally of Netanyahu, and in spite of his noted outspokenness in defense of Netanyahu on previous occasions, has remained eerily silent on this matter in which he is personally implicated.

Case 4000

Police maintain in Case 4000, the final accusation against the Netanyahu’s, that the substantially-sized telecommunications organization Bezeq similarly struck an agreement for favorable coverage of the Prime Minister, and in return, were granted favors from the administration. And while both Netanyahu and Bezeq vehemently deny any accusations of wrongdoing, former confidantes and those close with Netanyahu have stepped forward to testify to the contrary and state that Netanyahu and Bezeq were in fact in cahoots.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has asserted through the onslaught of accusations that he is fully and completely innocent and will soon be exonerated. He referenced occasions in the past when he had been similarly accused and the claims proved to be fallacies, maintaining that the most recent accusations will result no differently. Netanyahu effectively decried much of the press coverage as unwarranted and sensationalized, particularly in light of the fact that no final decision is expected to be made in the near future by Attorney General Mandelblit. Furthermore, the statement issued by the Israeli police chief recommending the indictment of Netanyahu is in many respects premature and without sufficient evidence of corruption against Netanyahu.

With the immense international press coverage surrounding the decision of the Attorney General whether or not to indict the prime minister on these various counts, protests and opposition throughout Israel have sprung up. Polls suggest that roughly half of Israelis believe the time is right for Netanyahu to resign as prime minister, as he nears the record for longest-serving prime minister which he would attain in September, beating out the forefather of the State of Israel, the late Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. Yet in spite of the growing opposition to Netanyahu, the individual, his political party, Likud anticipates that should a snap election occur, they would win 34 seats in the Israeli parliamentary house, the Knesset and maintain their dominance. The closest competitor would be the centrist Yesh Atid party, led by Yair Lapid, former finance minister under Netanyahu and considered by many to be the frontrunner in the prime minister race.

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Yet through the vast claims and differing accounts of the various corruption allegations surrounding Netanyahu, the robust democracy of Israel is on full display as their longtime leader faces scrutiny from political leaders and journalists and the population alike.

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