Yoav Baram – “Norms of corruption”
The past couple of months have been quite dramatic, even in Israel’s standard of 70 years of continuous struggles, conflicts and social adversity – it seems everything is coming to a boil with the investigations against four times Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu.
There’s a lot to cover so let’s start with a quick recap: a few weeks back the Israeli police has handed over its recommendations regarding Prime Minister Netanyahu’s ongoing investigations into the attorney general. The police recommended prosecuting Netanyahu on both cases in which he was involved up to that point, dubbed cases 1000 and 2000. The former discusses possible bribes which Netanyahu received during his office; these include what seems to be half of Cuba’s supply of cigars – accumulating to hundreds of thousands of Shekels, as well as expensive champagne cases and other gifts such as jewelry – all delivered by Arnon Milchen, a wealthy businessman whom Netanyahu claims to be his ‘friend’.
The latter case discusses serious conflicts of interest while Netanyahu was serving as the secretary of media (in addition to him serving as an active PM), as well as breach of trust and bribery allegations following his recorded negotiation talks with Noni Moses. Moses is one of Israel’s most powerful media moguls and owner of 2 of its most popular newspapers and internet outlets – ‘Yediot Aharonont’ and “Ynet”, and the recordings revealed what seemed to be a barter between him and Netanyahu concerning the latter’s coverage on Moses media outlets.
I will refrain from drilling down into each of the allegations in detail, as they were thoroughly discussed on the news outlets over and over and over again. Instead, I’d like to discuss what has now become Netanyahu’s most infamous defense strategy.
It took Netanyahu about 20 minutes from the moment the recommendations were made public, to respond, and he chose to do so on a 10 minutes long live-speech on Tv’s most desired prime time (20:45). A 10 minutes long solo show in which Netanyahu victimizes himself, bitters and complains about being persecuted by the unfair media and the police (sounds familiar if you’re an American…? Just wait).
Netanyahu continued to undermine the very foundations the state’s enforcement and judiciary institutions are built upon (not for the first time of course). According to him the police recommendations have little to no meaning, most of them are “thrown to the thrash” anyway (Netanyahu recently claimed this number to be over 60% while police officials say that more than 80% of their recommendations turn into indictments..) and could be brushed off under the excuse that the police is nothing but a political party, a ridiculous claim made even more ludicrous when you consider the fact that it was Netanyahu himself who appointed the current chief of police – Roni Elshich, as well as the state’s legal council (Avichai Mandelblit) who accompanies his investigations and will eventually have to decide whether to press charges or even the fact that one of his party members – Gilad Erdan – was appointed by him as the minister of internal affairs (who’s in charge of the police).
On his prime time speech Netanyahu has thrown his usual amount of paranoia and outright lies; Everyone is against him, everyone is trying to set him up, this includes Arnon Milchen whose testimony supported the bribery allegations against Netanyahu, ‘godfather’ and casino mogul Sheldon Adelson whom according to estimations have already bled an unimaginable sum of more than 1 Billion Shekels on what’s considered to be Netanyahu’s private newspaper ‘Israel Hayom’ and Ari Harow who served as Netanyahu’s former chief of staff and became a state witness – all of whom supported the mountains of evidence against him. But the police is a politically driven body according to Netanyahu – and the prime minister’s message to the citizens of Israel is that they should consider that the next time they have a pending police investigation against them. Don’t expect to get 10 minutes of prime time to present your case though.
And as crazy as all of this sounds – this was all before the recent developments in case 4000 in which Netanyahu is also profoundly implicated and in which another two close members of his inner circle – Shlomo Filber and Nir Hefetz – were signed as state witnesses. Case 4000 refers to a corruption investigation looking into the relationship between Netanyahu and Shaul Elovitch, another Israeli businessman who also owns ‘Walla’ news site. Similar to case 2000, case 4000 also deals with Netanyahu’s ridiculous obsession with the media.
It now seems that even Netanyahu’s own wife – a troubling persona on its own – is at risk of becoming next in line on his sacrificing alter, as it was reported a few days ago that the police lay hands on some incriminating text messages of her regarding case 4000. When police officials questioned her on the subject earlier this week – Mrs. Netanyahu claimed that she had deleted the damaging text messages from her device to ‘free up space on her phone,’ an excuse usually reserved to drug cartel members and people who still own a 1998 Nokia device. Her husband, on the other hand, has already started to claim that he was not aware of her involvement in the affair. One cannot refrain from wondering then what Netanyahu is doing in office for the past nine years – when according to him it seems that he’s not aware of 99.9% of the things that are occurring right under his nose – and which involve so many of his close confidants.
Netanyahu – in both his verbal and written responses – keeps repeating the same phrase ever since the first allegation broke against him – “Ein kloom ki lo haya kloom” which in English translates to: “There’s nothing because there was nothing.” Sounds familiar?
Here are a couple of tweets by President Trump right after the Florida shooting, in which 17 students were killed (tweeted on February 17th): “
“Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign — there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!”
Or Trump’s tweet from a couple of days ago: “…lawyer or law firm will take months to get up to speed (if for no other reason than they can bill more), which is unfair to our great country – and I am very happy with my existing team. Besides, there was NO COLLUSION with Russia, except by Crooked Hillary and the Dems!”
These tweets are added of course to the already overwhelmingly idiotic attempts by the president of the United States to ‘shake off’ any possible involvement with the Russians. The FBI cannot be trusted, Trump keeps repeating like his parallel Netanyahu, and he took it one step further with the dismissal of FBI director James Comey back in May 2017. In his childish-demented way – Trump is attempting to offset Americans beliefs and trust in their institutions – this is the same strategy as Netanyahu’s in Israel – only with far less sophistication.
For Bibi – the main line of defense – is that of total denial on the one hand (“Lo haya kloom ki ein kloom”) and the diminishing of allegations on the other (“It’s only Cigars…”, “All prime ministers had give-and-take relations with media moguls…” and so on…). On top of that defense Netanyahu has perfected over the years what is considered to be the heavy guns in every aspiring demagogue toolbox: incitement – either of the public against itself, or the public against the countries institutions, and fear – either against a ‘common’ internal enemy – the ‘lefties’, and externally – against the Arabs, Iran, Hezbollah, Isis and so on….
Perhaps one of the best examples of Netanyahu’s overwhelming moral deterioration concerns a case where he is not involved for a change. David Bitan served as one of the most infamous whips in coalition history, and as such – became one of Netanyahu’s close circle people. Bitan was arrested for corruption a couple of months ago and suspected for tipping off public construction bids for an Arab crime syndicate to which he owed millions of shekels in debt. At Bitan’s (forced) retirement party – Netanyahu – despite already knowing the overwhelming evidence the police had accumulated against Bitan – and instead of condemning the appalling corruption that have spread to the government highest branches and his own party– chose instead to thank Bitan for his services in front of the news crews, for all to see – a resounding message of unwavering support for a corrupted high ranking official who owes millions in debt to criminals.
Add to that Netanyahu’s failed attempts a few months back to pass a law that will inhibit the interrogation of a serving PM, as well as a law that will castrate the police recommendations – and you’ll get a good picture of just how far (or how low) he and his proxies are willing to go to keep him in power.
To this day – and ever since the first suspicions broke against him, Netanyahu has failed to do the most fundamental thing of all – which is to condemn all corruption, something even Vladimir Putin does from time to time.
After nine years in office, Netanyahu has grown a toxic halo of corruption around his close environment, slowly but surely turning it into a norm, after all – the fish rots from the head down. Amazingly – Netanyahu’s strategy is so successful that even with three pending investigations against him – every recent poll is predicting a win for the Likud party with him at its front. In fact, his voters seem to have wholly aligned with his norms, and in a recent survey, 62% of Likud voters replied that there is nothing wrong with a prime minister who takes hundreds of thousands of shekels in gifts, as long as he doesn’t supply benefits for it. You know your country is in trouble when its people can’t even agree on what corruption is.
Unlike Netanyahu – Trump seems to have carried with him his corruption and tendency to lie into office, and not the other way around (whence Netanyahu probably became corrupt somewhere during his eternal tenure). But similarly to Netanyahu – Trump has been working hard on creating his own norms; one of which is that he doesn’t answer to anyone (tax returns? Fucke’m, FBI investigating? Fire’em) and another in which he outright lies and disregard facts – all the while crying ‘fake media’ (forgive me for not giving any examples here as I want this article to actually end someday).
Both Trump and Netanyahu could be considered as part of a global phenomenon in which questionable leaders and parties around the world rise to power; in Poland, Hungry, Greece, Italy, and even western powers such as France, Britain, and Germany where radical groups are gaining increasing popularity. These leaders and groups rely more and more on nationality and demagogue tactics to incite and influence people, whom in turn are looking for some stability in an increasingly fast-changing world. But none of those countries is facing such an abrupt assault on its institutions and norms by its leader as is the case with Israel and the U.S.
For that reason alone it would be fascinating to see what will become of these two state leaders, who are both ankles deep in criminal investigations, and who are desperately fighting for their distorted norms – norms that will probably – and unfortunately – last long after they’re departure into history’s trash bin of most demagogue, narcissistic and corrupted ‘free-world’ leaders.