So much has been written about Bibi Netanyahu in the last two days after his personalized version of the Boswell Wilkie Circus, with all the cabinet ministers trotting out in synchronized step to the crack of David Bitan’s whip, as he played the ringmaster. Indeed Bitan’s barely concealed threat of evening the score with recalcitrant ministers come primary election time, did the trick and even Yisrael Katz came into line. Extortion is extortion, whether the threat is physical or political, and I for one am not willing to stand by and let it pass without even a mention. This behavior, reminiscent of the tactics of Capone enforcer, Frank Nitti, is indicative of how deep corruption in Israeli politics has become entrenched, that even cabinet ministers are more concerned for their political future, than their integrity and sense of public service.
It is telling that not once in all these months, have we heard Netanyahu relate to the issues of the accusations against him. He has not come out in denial, nor has he given us his side to the story. He has consistently deflected and obfuscated, claiming that these are unjustified personal attacks against him, in an “undemocratic” attempt to remove him from office. It wasn’t undemocratic when Olmert was Prime Minister and he, Netanyahu was at the forefront, calling for him to resign, pontificating that a Prime Minister under suspicion of corruption cannot be trusted to make decisions in isolation of his predicament. However, now, it’s undemocratic.
Perhaps there is an element of truth with Netanyahu’s claim that the press is “obsessed” with him and his family, but he has brought this upon himself. His ostentatious, excessive and lavish lifestyle are an eyesore, and the fact that it is so brazen and he is unapologetic about it, invites criticism – especially when it is not self-financed.
A Prime Minister who pays for virtually nothing from the salary that he earns (he doesn’t even pay for his own haircuts) and who is worth a reported $11 million, should not have to rely upon “gifts” from “benefactors” in order to pay for the standard of living he wishes to live. In fact, there is something unseemly and demeaning to my national pride, as an Israeli citizen, that my Prime Minister so willingly accepts these gifts to finance a lifestyle beyond what he himself can afford – because that is what it actually means, when he so readily accepts these gestures of generosity, and perhaps even solicits them. Furthermore, there is no escaping the question; do those who give him these gifts do so because he is Prime Minister? Or is he such a great and charismatic guy, that it just makes them want to open their wallets for him? Is it true friendship? I ask this, because it seems to be one way traffic: Netanyahu is always the on the receiving end and all these millionaires, Packer, Adelson, Milchan, Mimran etc. are always doing the giving. Or, perhaps, there is a quid pro quo that we just don’t know about? Either way, it is most disturbing to think that the leader of our country is possibly open to using his position in order to repay a favor to someone with a vested interest. Netanyahu’s campaign fund was funded almost entirely from overseas donations. He has never been called upon to reveal the list of his donors and how much each gave him. But, this pattern of behavior makes me question if any of these anonymous donors had substantial investments in Noble Energy, and this would provide a logical explanation as to why Netanyahu virtually bulldozed the gas deal through, despite the protests and so much apparent evidence from experts, that the deal was not to the benefit of Israeli consumers. Just a thought.
Alternatively, when these expenses are not covered by his effusively generous friends, Netanyahu doesn’t pay for it himself. We, the Israeli taxpayers, do. Perhaps this cavalier attitude and lack of appreciation of how much hard work and sweat goes into generating those taxes which pay for him (and his 25 year old son), is what infuriates the press and causes them to keep his excesses in the public eye. That, and his hypocrisy. In February 2013, Israel’s huge budget deficit was revealed to the public. It was twice that of the anticipated goal, 4.2% of its gross domestic product. Yuval Steinitz, then Finance Minister held a press conference and told the public that he anticipated that we were in for hard times and that the public needed to tighten its belt a notch or two. In May of that year, on Sara Netanyahu’s bidding, Netanyahu ordered for a double bed and a shower to be installed on his airplane for a four hour flight to London on a state visit, at the cost of $90,000. This, coming three months after the government’s announcement that we need to cut spending. And, he wonders why the press “hounds” him. Later, the report of the Prime Minister’s residence expenditure was published. From this report to the State Comptroller, we learned about the fact that gourmet meals were ordered in from the best restaurants on a regular basis, despite the fact that the Prime Minister’s residence has a permanent chef and kitchen staff on full-time salary. These meals were paid for by our taxes. It seems that every few months, we hear about another example of excess, paid for not by themselves. And then recently, we hear about Havana cigars and pink champagne delivered on a monthly basis over an extended period of time, to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars, financed by a “good friend”, who expects nothing in return. What are we to think? Is it so far-fetched to suspect corruption and kick-backs? I think not. So, we need to remember that the press have no need to look for scandals to write about Netanyahu, he provides them regularly with all the ammunition they need.
The common thread which runs through all these years of incidents of hedonism, is an unseemly sense of entitlement. The behavior that is accepted and expected of an elected official, does not apply to him and his family. It is more reminiscent of monarchies and despots, than democratically elected politicians. He has gotten so used to his position, after ten years in office, that he has forgotten that he was elected to serve the people, not the other way around. Oh, he knows how to mouth the platitudes when needed, but his actions betray him. They do not display the sense of requisite responsibility and respect for the source of income which keeps him living the luxurious lifestyle to which he and more pointedly, his wife have become accustomed.
The bigger problem, is that having a sense of entitlement is contagious. His son, for instance thinks he can eschew social norms and ignore municipal regulations, because he is the son of the prime minister. That is what is so outrageous about the incident with the dog and his bodily functions; not that he didn’t collect the offending droppings, but that he didn’t think he was required to do so, because of who he is. This was inculcated in him by his parents, and that kind of thinking is not that of one who sees himself as a representative of the people, but one who is above the people.
Were this sense of entitlement to stay in the family, that would be infuriating enough, but it doesn’t. It spreads further, into the realms of public office. Do not think that it is coincidence that in the years between 2014 and 2017 no fewer than four people working with the Prime minister and the Prime Minister’s office have been charged with misconduct, ranging from approval of irregular expenses and financial irregularities,against state rules and sets of standards, to sexual assault and embezzlement. I find it hard to dismiss the feeling that all these people’s behavior was influenced by the prevalent atmosphere present in the Prime Minister’s Office and the implicit sense of entitlement which is being subliminally broadcast to the people working in it.
Add to that Netanyahu’s haughty arrogance, his style of politicking, his derision of political opponents and the lack of respect he shows them (and anyone who dents his ego), goading his adversaries, and his divisive leadership, where he exploits the social rifts in our society, inflaming them instead of trying to heal them, and it is no surprise that the press and his political opponents go after him. He can play the victim as much as he likes, but it is his behavior that precipitates the criticism against him.
Throughout this article, I have studiously avoided the accusations of corruption against him. That is a legal matter, to be determined by police investigations, the decision of the State Prosecution and the courts. However, there is corruption here. There is corruption of the social contract between elected representatives and those that elected them. There is corruption of the norms of behavior of public officials. There is corruption of the political discourse and the lines which publicly elected officials should never cross. There is corruption of the integrity expected of our politicians. Worst of all, there is corruption of the public’s trust that those they elect will serve them with responsibility honesty and transparency.