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Destroying the checks and balances

Aug 16,2017 - Last updated at Aug 16,2017

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is in deep trouble.  He faces charges of corruption in three cases now being assessed by Israeli prosecutors and the attorney general.  The first involves up to $100,000 worth of highly valuable gifts — pink champagne and cigars — requested by him and his wife Sarah from billionaire film producer Arnon Milchan. Code words were used to make orders, revealing that the Netanyahus understood these gifts could be viewed as bribes.

Milchan also is said to have supplied meals from private chefs, custom-made suits for Netanyahu and $8,000 in jewellery for his wife.  In exchange, Netanyahu intervened with  former US Secretary of State John Kerry on behalf of Milchan, an Israeli citizen resident in California and former intelligence officer, who sought a 10-year US visa although the authorities had refused, insisting that he renews his visa on an annual basis. Milchan also is reported to have sought Netanyahu's aid in promoting investments in Israeli media.

While Milchan claims he is on the centre-left of Israeli politics, he has befriended politicians from the entire spectrum: the late prime minister and president Shimon Peres, imprisoned former premier Ehud Olmert, and current Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman. None of these politicians are suspected of receiving gifts from Milchan.

The second case concerns an effort the prime minister made to convince the editor of Israeli daily Yedioth Ahranot to tone down criticism of Netanyahu in exchange for his exerting pressure on the pro-Netanyahu free newspaper, Israel Hayom owned by another US billionaire Sheldon Adelson, to cut circulation. The object would be to boost Yedioth Ahranot's circulation and ability to attract ads.

Netanyahu's ex-chief of staff US-born Ari Harow has agreed to act as a witness for the state in exchange for immunity from his own prosecution for bribery, fraud and breach of trust: the very same charges levelled at Natanyahu. Harow has, reportedly, accepted to cooperate with in return for a fine of $147,000 and six months community service. Recordings on Harow's phone conversations with the newspaper owner are the basis for this case.  The prosecution has imposed a gag-order on his testimony, ramping up speculation that Netanyahu will not be able to escape.  Yedioth Ahronot commentator Sima Kadmon wrote, "Netanhayu can now be seen as a dead man walking."  

A third potential case involves the $2 billion purchase by Israel of submarines and patrol boats from the German firm ThyssenKrupp. While Netanyahu is not thought to have benefitted from this deal, his cousin and lawyer David Shimron, was arrested with Mickey Ganor, who acted as the broker for the deal.  Ganor has been charged with bribery, money laundering, fraud and conspiracy. 

While Netanyahu has not been charged with wrongdoing in this case, former defence minister Moshe Ya'alon has accused him of ordering more submarines than Israel needs. This has been dismissed by current Defence Minister Lieberman.  Ya'alon has offered to provide testimony to back up his allegations which, if proven, could lead to another investigation of Netanyahu.

Netanyahu may survive his problems with corruption but they will not define his legacy.  Israeli commentator Akiva Edlar, writing in Al Monitor on August 10, says Netanyahu "has burned every bridge on the road to peace... During his many years in power, he missed no opportunity to miss an opportunity — an accusation generally levelled at the Palestinians — for dialogue with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.  Instead [Netanyahu] took every chance to punish the Palestinians by expanding construction in Israeli settlements and demolishing Palestinian homes" in land designated for a future Palestinian state.

Eldar accuses Netanyahu of nurturing Israeli "hatred, fear and mistrust" of the Palestinians and quotes a recent poll that shows 77 per cent of Israeli Jews "do not believe there is a connection between the current wave of terror attacks and Palestinian despair over the impasse in talks on a peace agreement".  Finally, Eldar argues when Netanyahu is no longer prime minister, "he will leave behind a scorched democracy.  With his unusual gift for demagogic rhetoric, Netanyahu has managed to destroy everything that's good about the system of checks and balances in Israeli society." He has also undermined the rule of law.

Do Eldar's remarks about "hatred, fear and mistrust" sound familiar?  This is precisely what Donald Trump — who is also under investigation — has done during his election campaign and been doing during his first 207 days in the White House. He has "nurtured "hatred, fear and mistrust" between his largely white underclass constituency and the liberal, educated elite who used to populate the US political scene at the highest level. Last weekend's deadly clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, pitting neo-Nazis, white racists, and hard-rightists against human rights activists demonstrated just how far the US has slid into bigotry and violence. 

While Netanyahu ignores Palestinian grievances and Israeli soldiers and police are rarely punished for killing Palestinians, Trump has dismissed the despair and anger of African-Americans, Hispanics, and other minorities who face discrimination and harsh treatment and death from largely but not always white police officers.  Like Netanyahu, Trump is in the process of dismantling the already fragile US democracy by destroying the checks and balances which have prevented the concentration of power in one man's hands.


Like Trump, who repeatedly returns to the campaign trail to stir the hearts of loyalists when under pressure, Netanyahu relies on rallying thousands of supporters to demonstrate his strength.  But these staged events only expose weakness and fear.  When addressing core supporters, the two men repeatedly speak about "witch hunts" designed to oust the administrations in Israel and the US.  But when their supporters disperse they are left facing investigations, potential indictments and condemnation — precarious futures.

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