If Donald Trump was serious when he invited Benjamin Netanyahu to be among the first foreign leaders to visit him at the White House following next week’s inauguration, he should send the invitation quickly because Bibi might not be in office much longer.
Calls for the Israeli premier’s resignation intensified over the weekend with news of tape recordings of a conversation he had with the publisher of a major national newspaper to exchange financial and business advantages for favorable coverage of the prime minister, according to Ha’aretz and other Israeli news outlets.
If the reports are accurate and Netanyahu and Arnon Mozes really were trying to cut a deal, the big loser would be the PM’s longtime benefactor, casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson.
Hebrew media are reporting that amid calls for Netanyahu’s resignation there have been discussions of forming a new coalition without him in lieu of calling new elections.
The alleged deal with Mozes, owner of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper and YNET web service, reportedly involved curtailing or even shutting down Adelson’s free daily newspaper Israel Today, which is given away free, undercutting all the competition. Adelson’s paper has been so supportive of Netanyahu that it has been nicknamed Bibi Today.
The tape emerged as part of a spreading corruption investigation of the Prime Minister. He’s been interviewed by prosecutors twice in recent days on “suspicion that he received benefits from businessmen,” said a police spokesperson. The interviews were conducted “under caution,” a term meaning anything he said could be used against him in a criminal case, authorities said.
Netanyahu phoned Trump to congratulate the New York real estate billionaire on his surprise victory. They had a “warm” conversation and the president-elect invited the Israeli leader, who has feuded with President Barack Obama for most of the past eight years, to come visit at the “first opportunity,” according to the prime minister’s office.
The attorney general said the investigation arose out of “a long string of claims that the prime minister allegedly carried out crimes relating to ethicality,” according to YNET news.
It centers on allegations that Netanyahu accepted illegal gifts, including very expensive cigars and cigar boxes, from wealthy businessmen. One report said Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, had given him tailored suits.
Netanyahu’s lawyer, Yaakov Weinroth, said it’s not a crime “when a close friend gives the friend a gift of cigars.”
This is not the first time Netanyahu has been investigated for corruption nor is he the first prime minister to come under scrutiny of the Israeli Police’s Lahav public corruption unit. In fact, his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, is currently serving a 19-month prison term for fraud and breach of trust.