Behemian Rhapsody

English translation  (Be-he-ma) בהמה

בְּהֵמָה שֵם נ’ = beast, animal (usu. domesticated) ; (biblical, Jewish law) animal ; (slang) vulgar person, animal, pig

A malevolent wind is blowing in the corridors of Israel’s ruling party. Under Netanyahu, this party, which has been a stalwart of the Israeli political tapestry since its inception and which has been in power for the last nine years, has undergone a metamorphosis, and is no longer the Center-right party it once was. The principles of “Hadar” which have been its guiding light for decades, has become an anachronism, a thing of the past. Begin’s philosophy of liberal democracy, where it is not just about majority rule, but about having checks and balances, to protect minority rights and the abuse of power, has been irreverently pushed aside, to be replaced by an overbearing Machiavellian approach, where their majority is used to trample any obstacles standing in their way. Democracy be damned – if there are laws, that stand in their way, change them – after all, what is the use of having a majority if you don’t use it, right?  Among the old school party loyalists who can still remember the days of leadership with dignity under Begin and Shamir, there is pain in their eyes when they talk about how the Likud’s current members of Knesset comport themselves.  It is like parents who are forced to acknowledge that the son they brought up, has turned out to be an embarrassment, but family loyalty prevents them from disowning him.

Power is addictive, and the longer one is in power, the more addicted one becomes to it. It gets to the point that you forget that being in power is a privilege and you begin to think of it as a right. If the rules of the game restrict you in achieving your goals, change the rules of the game. But, it is not a game – it is our democracy – and these changes begin to gradually erode it, until one day we will wake up and realize that we no longer have a democracy, but a party run despotism. This is what characterizes the Likud today.

It started in 2009, when, having come to power by efficiently using votes of no confidence, they moved to change the law. Now, a special majority of 61 MK’s is needed in order to topple the government. This is an almost impossible task, given Israel’s political set-up. Thus, the Likud managed to emasculate this important democratic tool, thereby ensuring that their government cannot be toppled by parliamentary means. Then, they passed a law which severely limits the scope of investigative journalism, eliminating another democratic check to the government’s power. Next, they passed a law requiring NGO’s to make public the source of foreign donors, in order to publicly discredit them in the eyes of the public. Now, there is a parliamentary commission of inquiry to investigate the involvement of foreign governments in the funding of these NGOs, with a view to making it illegal. This is how they aim to stifle criticism of the government by a well-organized, non-party opposition.

Frustrated with the Supreme Court, which stands as a guardian of our democracy, and blocks laws which it deems contradictory to Israel’s basic laws (in the absence of a constitution), they seek to exploit their majority in the Knesset to pass a law which limits the ability of the judiciary to overturn unjust laws. You have to be really drunk on your parliamentary power to presume to curtail the powers of the judicial arm of government, so that you can railroad through whatever you want.

An inevitable corollary to being in power for a long period of time, is corruption. After nine years of continuous rule, we are now witnessing a burgeoning initiative to institutionalize corruption. The proposed law, due to pass this year, which allows ministers to appoint their own ministry chiefs without tender, is one such example.

Netanyahu has been in power for so long, that he has gotten used to others financing his hedonistic lifestyle. His cavalier lack of respect for the amount of work which generates the taxes that finance his and his wife’s luxurious whims, is just one small step away from corruption. His scandalous demand back in 2013, to install a double bed and shower in the prime Minister’s airplane at the expense of over half a million shekels, for a four hour flight to Britain, is one such example. There are others.

Accepting lavish and expensive gifts on a regular basis from “friends”, is stepping across that line. At best, it is a breach of trust because he was obligated to disclose these gifts and their accumulated value to the State comptroller, and he didn’t. At worst, it is bribery. It is not about cigars and champagne, they are just the means of payment. It is about the acceptance and soliciting of such expensive “gifts”, on a monthly basis, and the expectation of reciprocation. That’s corruption – and that is what this investigation is about.

The other case for which he is being investigated, is colluding with the prominent owner of the largest newspaper in Israel, whereby in exchange for positive media coverage, he would facilitate legislation which would significantly weaken a rival newspaper. Money does not have to cross palms for graft to be committed. Neither does there have to proof of a result. It is enough for there to be an offer and acceptance, a predisposition to enact the deal for corruption to exist. This case is perhaps even more scandalous that the gifts charge, because the only motivation for the deal, is to protect Netanyahu’s ego. Such vanity is reminiscent of Roman Emperors.

There are two more cases, in which he is not implicated (yet), but which it seems inconceivable that he was unaware about what was going on. In the submarine scandal, not only was Netanyahu responsible for the appointment of Miki Ganor, the go-between who has turned state’s witness, but a close confidante and personal lawyer who happens to also be his cousin, and his partner, who happens to be Netanyahu’s long-standing personal envoy are involved in this up to their necks.

In the Bezeq share fraud affair, Netanyahu was Minister of Communications, who appointed the director General, Shlomo Filber. Shaul Alovitch – whom Netanyahu helped to buy Bezeq and who has perpetuated Bezeq’s monopoly, restricting competition through control of the Communications Ministry – is his trusted friend. It seems highly unlikely he had no knowledge of what was going on.

In addition, his wife stands to be indicted for misappropriation of funds and government property for personal use.

Netanyahu has surrounded himself with people willing to do his bidding, in return for his patronage. What characterizes Bitan and Amsalem more than anything else, is their loyalty to Netanyahu. Even the sanctity of Israel’s democratic character, is expendable in their quest to prove their loyalty to the Godfather. While we have an expectation of our elected officials to comport themselves with dignity, Bitan and Amsalem have no such graces. Seeing them in action, one is reminded of Al Capone’s henchman, Frank Nitti. It is no wonder that they are depicted as Netanyahu’s pit-bulls. Not a week goes by without one of them shocking us with the audacity of their statements, whether it be Bitan and Amsalem attacking families of fallen soldiers, seeking to petition the Prime minister to do something to return their loved ones’ remains from Gaza, or Bitan calling the Shabak cowards, or Amsalem’s systematic attempts to intimidate the police, investigating Netanyahu’s alleged corruption.

In their fervor, Bitan and Amsalem have tabled a slew of legislative bills aimed at shielding Netanyahu from investigation and prosecution. One law, nick-named the French Law is aimed at granting an incumbent Prime Minister immunity from investigation. (Actually, the French law does NOT provide the President immunity, what it does, is that it delays investigation and prosecution, until after the President finishes his terms of office – and we must remember that French Presidents are limited to only two terms of office. Netanyahu is in his fourth). In another law, the proposal is to prevent the police from making any recommendations after it has finished its investigation and transfers the case to the State Prosecutor. Amsalem claims that this law is unrelated to the current corruption investigations, but the timing of this proposal is suspicious.  The fact that this week Benny Begin, was replaced by Amsalem in the committee discussing this bill, is proof that this law is designed specifically to address Netanyahu’s predicament. Benny Begin, Menachem Begin’s son and a man of unimpeachable integrity, had made it clear that his support for this bill would only be on condition that it doesn’t relate to the cases in which Netanyahu is currently being investigated. I have to ask why is there such urgency to pass these laws now, if “nothing will come of them, because there is nothing there”, as Netanyahu asserts ad nauseam?

The Knesset started its winter session on October 23. Since then, it seems that it has dealt with nothing of substance, other that these proposed laws. For the first two weeks, the entire legislative process came to a standstill while Bitan and Amsalem strong-armed their coalition partners into agreeing to support these bills. There are so many issues which the Knesset needs to address which are in the public’s interests, and the entire legislative process is obsessed with these two laws. Netanyahu’s pit-bulls rule the pit.

This is not Animal Farm, but the animals have taken over the house. And, they are in Behemian Rhapsody.

About the Author
Paul Mirbach made aliya from South Africa to kibbutz Tuval in 1982 with a garin of Habonim members. Together they built a new kibbutz transforming rocks and mud to a green oasis in the Gallilee. He served in infantry during his army service, serving in both Lebanon and the West Bank, including on reserve duty during the first intifada. Paul still lives on Tuval with his wife and two sons.