Copywriter Benjamin Netanyahu (“if they give, they’ll get,” “the rock of our existence,” “life itself,” “the Arabs are coming in droves”) has added to his frequently-used expressions the adage “it will end with nothing because there is nothing.” This has become his regular response to all the reports on the corruption investigations against him and those close to him.
It’s nice that the prime minister is keeping his cool and wittiness even under caution. But Netanyahu isn’t contending for the Golden Cactus award of advertising agencies or writing lines for TV comic Lior Shlein or the satire program “Wonderful Country.” He is Israel’s prime minister and is supposed to be a guide and set a personal example for hundreds of thousands of public servants.
And what is Netanyahu’s message? So far, he hasn’t denied an iota of all the media exposés in the gifts case or the so-called Nonigate affair. From this one may surmise that there’s no dispute over the facts that my colleague Gidi Weitz has exposed. Netanyahu held negotiations on a protection deal with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes, consisting of “being pampered by the newspaper in exchange for closing down a free newspaper,” as former State Prosecutor Eran Shendar put it. In the gifts case, Netanyahu and his family extorted luxury products worth enormous sums of money from rich people who wanted to get close to him and needed his favors.
The implication of “it will end with nothing because there is nothing” is that in Netanyahu’s eyes, he behaved appropriately as a prime minister in a democratic state of law. As he sees it, it’s quite appropriate to exchange offers of temptations and threats with a private newspaper’s publisher for self-advancement and remaining in power, and it’s perfectly fitting to receive valuable gifts for the ruler, his wife and son far beyond the living standard dictated by the government payroll.
What are the people below him in the hierarchy to understand from this? The Shin Bet security service coordinator, the squadron commander, the hospital department director, the Finance Committee member, the Planning and Building Committee member?
Are they to act like Netanyahu, each according to his post and ability? The Shin Bet man will ask for “gifts” from the Palestinian mayor, the policewoman will eat in a restaurant without paying, the inspector will load his car with popsicles from the kiosk fridge, the lecturer will discuss improving his students’ grades for their positive feedback, the judge will demand presents from both sides’ lawyers and the doctor will choose the jewelry he’ll take from the patient before the surgery. And all the mayors who were convicted for taking bribes from entrepreneurs will be pardoned. All they did was receive gifts from friends.
Netanyahu and his wife have been known for many years as cheapskates who enjoy a life of luxury at other people’s expense, while abusing their household staff. The periodic reports about the nanny, the electrician, the bottle collecting, the prestigious hotels and the dry cleaning haven’t prevented Likud voters from raising him to power time after time.
But the current cases seem to have breached the innermost circle. Like Richard Nixon, Netanyahu recorded his conversations to protect himself, thus digging himself a hole and providing evidence for his investigators. The recordings of his talks with Mozes cannot be dismissed as “an attack by the far left” or some similar nonsense.
In the gifts case too, the good friend Arnon Milchan made sure to document every purchase and file the invoices for a rainy day. This is not the way to behave among friends. How many of us keep invoices of presents we bought friends? One keeps invoices to get a tax deduction, or in case the fraud squad comes knocking at the door.
By giving a stamp of approval to corrupt behavior as a defense from investigation, Netanyahu is ruining the public service and turning Israel from a state of law to a state of baksheesh.