We keep saying to ourselves that this is it, enough, we’ve seen it all, they can’t possibly go any lower, it can’t get any more depressing. We expect this bunch to learn to behave based on some sort of reasonable norms, follow at least the minimum codes of what’s proper and civilized. But we keep getting battered, nearly every day, not just a slap but a kick in the face.
Even the worst cynic will wonder in despair which bad movie we’re in. What has become of this country, where the cabinet ministers and bigwigs strut like gangsters and thugs?
They’re sowing fear, scattering threats and menacing others like bone-crushing debt collectors – a gray-market mentality in a reality blacker than black. Not by chance, these are the people closest to the prime minister and his family. This is his media safety belt (and sometimes explosive belt). It’s just like in the Mafia: The boss is surrounded by soldiers. By made men.
They’re the ones he sends into the streets to kneecap his enemies. They don’t ask questions. They carry out orders. Sorry, instructions. An explicit utterance isn’t always needed. A look or nod can suffice. They understand.
Sometimes, alas, they have work accidents. They “help him too much” (as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said of David Bitan, the former consigliere who disappeared as if a furniture store had swallowed him).
Such an accident happened before our very ears Wednesday when coalition whip Miki Zohar spoke on Radio 103 FM.
This was the morning after Channel 12 News played recordings of a conversation between Avichai Mandelblit and former bar association chief Efi Nave. Zohar, fired up like a street fighter, threatened the Attorney General, saying that if he didn’t resign and revoke the corruption indictments against Netanyahu, the earth would shake and more secret recordings would leak.
Zohar was convinced that by doing this he was pleasing the boss, But the prime minister’s aides and apparently also his lawyers nearly plotzed. After all, this is a tried-and-true recipe for invoking the incapacitation clause: Using your government power to influence your trial.
What an outburst of hysteria. After he got a dressing-down from Netanyahu (lots of screaming, Likud sources say), Zohar, white in the face, quickly issued a clarification. He didn’t stop there. He also made a video. The pathetic, lying script that he read accompanied the terrified face of a kidnap victim reciting his captors’ demands with the rifles aimed at his head off-camera.
“They tried to attribute threats to me.” His remarks “were taken out of context.” Hey, it’s impossible to take things out of context in a live broadcast with an open mic.
Zohar’s fall is a truly purifying moment. For two weeks he has been running from one radio or television studio to the next, crying out bitterly about how he and Likud have been affronted. He laments the “crime organization” tag that talk show host and former soccer star Eyal Berkovic threw in his face. And now, after trying so hard to prove that there’s not a grain of truth in this epithet, the (alleged) criminal let slip precisely in the name of the (alleged) organization.
Undoubtedly after legal advice he had received, Netanyahu berated and shook off his lackey. He didn’t do that a week ago when Transportation Minister Miri Regev, a good pal to him and his wife, also demonstrated the Berkovician truths on a Saturday night now infamous.
In a violent and frightening appearance, like in a holding cell in or outside court, she did what criminals do: She threatened to use her government power to prevent Berkovic from being appointed the coach of Israel’s national soccer team. Netanyahu kept mum. The (alleged) crime that Regev committed doesn’t get Bibi in any trouble, so let her spew.
Regev, borne on the waves of support from the base, wrung out every possible drop of glory when at the beginning of the week she was interviewed again and again and repeated the message: The person who insulted the million-and-something Likud voters will never coach the national team. (And she was lying, of course. Berkovic was referring to the party leadership and made clear that the crime was the coronavirus debacle.)
Regev runs in the party primary 24/7. This is her way of flattering and defending the insulted. The same holds true for Miki Makhlouf Zohar. He showed up to be interviewed on “Ofira and Berkovic,” brawled and solemnly announced that he would boycott this popular television talk show.
That’s the spirit. That’s the Newspeak. Note who’s frequently invited to the studios: Regev, Zohar and two other champion Likud legislators: Osnat Mark and Shlomo Karhi. The lower the discourse, the greater the demand. Old brawlers fade away and new ones arise to replace them.
The depths of fear
Zohar & Co. of course raised their voices to echo the weekly portion of fakery against Mandelblit that was cooked up at the prime minister’s residence immediately upon the broadcast of the secret recordings.
There’s something incomprehensible about this. It’s happening precisely with an Attorney General of Mendelblit’s stripe, someone who has never strayed from the straight and narrow – a cautious type, a restrained person both in his utterances and decisions. How is it that the very mention of his name sets Israel aflame?
In a rational world, defendant Benjamin Netanyahu would be reciting Birkat Hagomel, the prayer recited after recovering from serious illness, completing a dangerous journey or surviving a life-threatening experience.
The Attorney General fudged his decision on the indictments, stretched the pace and timing to the limit, gave Netanyahu first-class conditions and censored and blurred obvious acts. He’s the one who closed cases against him and the lady, wholesale.
The most recent was the one concerning Netanyahu’s windfall after selling shares in U.S. company Seadrift Coke, in which presumably any other elected official would be roasted under the bright lights of the interrogation room.
He’s a merciful man, even more than retired Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, who became Attorney General in 1997 and saved the couple’s corrupt skin more than once.
In fact, if anyone else were sitting in the chief prosecutor’s office, chances are that Mr. Netanyahu (and the lady) wouldn’t only be entangled well beyond what he could have imagined. His political immune system would have collapsed long ago. Instead, Mandelblit’s stammering handling of the Netanyahu case has let the accused construct with satanic efficiency an attack against him and the entire system.
Take the latest affair. Despite the fascinating nature of the Mandelblit-Nave recordings, their chronicles are already known. Then-State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan’s severe opinion on the Netanyahu cases wasn’t accepted, even though it was identical to that of 90 percent of the people doing the investigative work at the State Prosecutor’s Office. And among the astonished police officers who learned of the putridity Netanyahu was producing, 100 percent believed as Nitzan did.
The more significant revelations this week that should be disturbing Mandelblit came from elsewhere: A declaration by former Defense Ministry Director General Dan Harel that was reported by Guy Peleg on Channel 12 News and in Baruch Kra’s Channel 13 interview with former Defense Ministry legal adviser Ahaz Ben Ari.
Like any number of previous disclosures, the brain refuses to believe: How was Netanyahu not interrogated in the submarine affair?
The affair plays an important role in the protest movement against Netanyahu. And that happened after middleman Michael Ganor withdrew from a state’s evidence deal, after the matter had almost entirely fallen from view (waiting around for indictments and a trial). Kahol Lavan brought it to the surface again in the latest election campaign but it didn’t garner much attention.
On Wednesday, with meager and disgraceful media coverage, a convoy of hundreds of cars set out with about 100 satirical mock-ups of submarines, led in part by former top brass from throughout the military and security services. They traveled from northern Israel to the prime minister’s residence.
Every time this affair comes up again, it seems Netanyahu is driven crazy.
Something in this quicksand is unlike the usual games of revelation, protest, lying reaction and spin. Some will say this is because of Netanyahu’s fear of being tied to this swamp; others will say “better a case that’s opened and closed than one that has never been opened.”
The responsible adults in Netanyahu’s river of protest will continue to focus on this aspect. In the meantime, the political establishment isn’t, let’s say, exactly plunging to the depths of the issue.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Netanyahu’s partner in the unity government, still has a bullet in his gun in this matter, even if not a fatal one. About this – stay tuned.
The last temptation
In about a month, the cooling-off period of Yisrael Beiteinu’s bill to dissolve the Knesset ends. Until then, Gantz and his fellow members of Kahol Lavan are supposed to agree on whether they’ll stay in the government. In other words, they have to decide whether to join the opposition and vote for an early election.
Nothing good awaits the Kahol Lavan folks on the other side of the river except the fantasy of seeing the Netanyahu family move out of the fortress they’ve occupied since 2009. (They of course will call it an eviction.)
Gantz and many of his colleagues are ready to commit suicide in the hope that the deed would bring political devastation to Netanyahu. They would risk hazarding that if they had a guarantee that devastation would indeed be the outcome of the election. They wouldn’t hesitate. A kind of political Samson’s choice.
The temptation is huge: to cut Netanyahu’s lifeline, to deprive him of control of events. This is also the risk the move entails. It has often been said in recent months that Gantz has come to his senses; he has realized what he has entered and with whom he has partnered with – something inside him has burst.
A wealth of superlatives has been invoked to describe the mood of the man who has come from a place of responsibility and has found himself beside the most deceptive and treacherous partner in the history of Israeli politics.
But never have we heard him the way we heard him this week. Even on Thursday at the Knesset event for approving the agreement with the United Arab Emirates, he fired bellicose messages at his abusive partner.
The last drops of his patience have sunk in the sea of poison that Netanyahu and most top Likudniks are creating.
In discussions with people close to Gantz, he has made clear that if by the end of this month the budget crisis isn’t resolved, he’ll support an early election.
“We’re considering this,” Gantz said. “We’ve had it up to here. In two weeks we’ll know: Either there’s a budget” – for 2021, losing Netanyahu a chance to trigger a June election – “or we’ll go to the people.”
The Kahol Lavan chief also noted that he’s in contact with the heads of other parties regarding whom he would accept as prime minister.
“I won’t rule out anyone who’s not him [Netanyahu]. The people will decide. If they want Bennett, let it be Bennett,” he said, referring to Naftali Bennett, the right-wing leader who’s climbing up the polls. “I’m the best possible partner for Netanyahu, but if he continues like this, let him take the responsibility.”
Of course this could be a tactic to deter Netanyahu. It’s not by chance that Gantz mentioned Bennett as a possible alternative. But what if the deterrence doesn’t work?
Gantz, say people who know him, sometimes explodes with nerves (in his relaxed way), and then sinks into endless discussions and thoughts about what he really said and meant – and then doesn’t do anything. In the end, they say, it’s not complicated: He’s the one who’s keeping Netanyahu in power. Maybe he’ll do us the honor of bringing him down.
Yesh Atid, the party of opposition leader Yair Lapid, is keeping abreast of these developments with interest. Gantz’s message was yes to dissolving the Knesset and no to supporting the no-confidence motion that, if approved, would have anointed Lapid as prime minister.
This scenario doesn’t stand a chance for a number of reasons, among them Likud’s number of Knesset seats, its pact with the ultra-Orthodox parties and the loyalty of legislators like Orli Levi-Abekasis (Gesher) and the duo of Zvi Hauser and Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel (both of Derech Eretz).
In any given situation they’d rather keep the country in the hands of a corrupt leader who’s destroying Israeli democracy than be part of a governing coalition dependent from the outside on the Joint List of Arab parties.
Gantz said coordination is nascent between Kahol Lavan and the opposition parties – and in advance of a possible early election. In the Knesset on Monday last week, two intriguing meetings took place. Moshe Ya’alon, No. 2 in Yesh Atid-Telem, which broke with Gantz after he formed a unity government with Netanyahu, met with Gantz in his office. Another top Kahol Lavan figure, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, visited Lapid.
Those were the first such meetings since the ugly divorce; they discussed the various options for toppling Netanyahu. The threads are being spun. A Lapid-Gantz linkup is a matter of time, and not much of it.
Physically, Kahol Lavan is in the coalition. In spirit, no longer. Again and again Gantz has been asked whether he’s sorry about his decision to break up the slate and destroy the only alternative for center-left rule. His answer still stands: “I’ll never regret anything I’ve done for the good of the people of Israel.”
Even at this price? – he was asked.
“So be it,” he replied. He was good with his decision.
Gantz, convene a commission
On September 11, I wrote here about a hidden provision in the Military Justice Law, Section 537: “The defense minister is entitled to appoint a commission of inquiry to investigate any matter touching on the military, and it is authorized to summon witnesses under oath or not under oath.”
As I wrote five weeks ago, this provision was put to use once: In 2000, military chief Shaul Mofaz appointed a commission headed by a former chief justice, Meir Shamgar, to investigate the relationship between veterans’ cancer cases and service in the Kishon River near Haifa.
I wondered why Defense Minister Gantz wasn’t using his authority and establishing a commission to investigate the submarine affair.
After those musings were published, top people from the ministries led by Kahol Lavan told me the issue was being discussed; for example, by the defense and justice ministers.
But with a commission like this there’s a legal difficulty: You can only investigate soldiers, or reservists on active duty.
That is, navy chiefs could be summoned to testify, and also perhaps some from the past, as well as other senior officers who were involved in the matter. You couldn’t summon the prime minister, his lawyers, Ganor, the director general of the Defense Ministry, legal advisers and others who were involved or are suspected.
Some legal experts believe this obstacle can be overcome and civilians can be summoned, even cabinet members or a prime minister. Even if not, the establishment of such a commission is simply begging to be done. Every minute Gantz doesn’t order one, he fails to do his duty and violates his voters’ trust. As I wrote Wednesday, Gantz acknowledged that he has been considering this approach for many weeks but is aware of its shortcomings.
Even if it’s not possible to summon civilians to testify, Israel would be addressing its gravest security affair ever, with uniformed officers from the past and present testifying, bringing the issue to the top of defense officials’ agenda. These are all critical elements in clarifying the affair and keeping it in the spotlight until the facts are illuminated further and the ills are eliminated.
In the opinion of generations of defense chiefs throughout the military, all this is critical not only for the moral strength of the defense establishment, but for the country’s military strength itself.
Source: Yossi Verter – HAARETZ