The hat trick

When a hockey player scores three goals in a single game, that’s a hat trick. With the conviction of chief rabbi Metzger, Israeli prosecutors have scored their hat trick (1) A Prime Minister (Ehud Olmert) (2) A President (Moshe Katsav) and (3) A chief rabbi (Yona Metzger).

YnetNews of January 30 reports, ‘Former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel Yona Metzger sentenced to 3.5 years in prison and ordered to pay a NIS 5 million fine after being convicted of three counts of taking bribes, one count of fraudulently obtaining benefits, one count of fraud and obstruction of justice.’ And religious Jews are expected to treat the chief rabbinate respectfully.

It’s no wonder that the governments of the Middle East are terrified by Israel. What would happen if they were held accountable; if they were subject to prosecution and imprisonment for criminal behaviour?

Bibi is also pulling off a hat trick of sorts. He is currently under three (maybe four) active investigations for criminal behavior. We discussed the first two cases in the last newsletter. The Times of Israel of January 23 reports, ‘Police are reportedly looking into two more possible criminal probes against beleaguered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Channel 10 reported Monday, but provided few details of the new suspicions. The reports of the two fresh probes come with Netanyahu already deeply mired in two graft investigations. The first, dubbed Case 1000, revolves around hundreds of thousands of shekels worth of gifts Netanyahu is supposed to have received. The second, Case 2000, is investigating a supposed secret deal with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes.

The two new cases have naturally been dubbed Case 3000 and Case 4000, Channel 10 said, citing police sources. Netanyahu, is set to be questioned by police for a third time later this week. The TV report offered a “cautious estimation” that case 3000 deals with the submarine affair, in which Netanyahu’s personal lawyer David Shimron is suspected of having a possible conflict of interest in representing German shipbuilder Thyssenkrup while it was selling Israel naval vessels.’ There are no details on case 4000.

How is Bibi defending himself against the accusations in his hat trick? As reported in YnetNews of January 30, ‘Taking a page from Trump’s playbook, Netanyahu blamed the media for the controversy, accusing them of manufacturing “a flood of fake news.” “It doesn’t surprise me. The media is left-wing, mobilized on a Bolshevik hunt [against me], [dedicated to] brainwashing, and character assassination against me and my family,” said Netanyahu.

He further charged that Israel’s press was pressuring the attorney general and law enforcement agencies “to indict me at any price,” referring to various police investigations against him on suspicions of graft. “There has been nothing like it in the history of the state. It’s doubtful there was anything similar in the history of other democratic countries,” said Netanyahu.

There is breaking news on case 3000. Ynetnews of January 31 reports, ‘New evidence unearthed by German newspaper Handelsblatt indicates that senior Israeli military and government officials received illegal payments from the German company that has supplied all six of the IDF’s submarines. According to the expose, Israel is one of three countries to whom ThyssenKrupp paid bribes to senior officials in order to win contacts to build surface vessels and submarines for their navies. The other two countries are Greece and South Africa.’

Note that this does not implicate Bibi directly, but at the very least people close to him are up to their necks in corruption. As the article notes, ‘The affair broke several weeks ago, following an expose on David Shimron’s involvement in negotiations with ThyssenKrup, the German conglomerate that owns the shipyards that builds the submarines. Shimron is Netanyahu’s long time personal lawyer, and was deeply involved in the negotiations to purchase three new submarines. He reportedly gave the German company an ultimatum that if they wanted to complete the deal, they must replace their long time representative in Israel, and appoint Michael (Miki) Ganor, a close personal friend of Shimron and Netanyahu as their representative in Israel.

Faced with possible indictments and political challenges at home, Bibi is trying to hold onto his base against the challenge of Naftali Bennet. This challenge is playing out in the dynamics of support for the settlement regulation (or regularization) bill.

Tovah Lazaroff explained that bill in a December 7 article in the Jerusalem Post. She writes, ”Known as the settlement bill, or the regulations bill, the legislation being voted on is designed to resolve the issue of 4,000 illegal homes built on private Palestinian property. The bulk of the homes, 3,200 of them, are located within already existing settlements and their land cannot be returned to the Palestinian owners.

Almost two years after taking office, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in February 2011 held a critical policy meeting in which he determined, in keeping with Israeli law, that homes on private Palestinian property would be removed. But in practice, unless forced to do so by the High Court of Justice, his government has had no desire to remove these homes, many of which were built decades ago.

The settlement bill would retroactively legalize these homes, thereby solving a problem for Jewish residents of Judea and Samaria. But in providing Israeli homeowners with increased rights, the Knesset would be simultaneously stripping Palestinians of their property rights. ‘ This is the bill being pushed by the far right. Naftali Bennett hopes to win the right wing voters by advocating for this bill.

The bill is thought to be illegal – so blatantly illegal, that it’s indefensible. Ynet News of January 29 reports, ‘Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday that he will not defend the Regulation Bill before the High Court of Justice (HCJ) if it passes in the Knesset. In addition, the AG notified the political leadership that, following Amona’s residents retraction of their peaceful evacuation pledge, he will not represent the state in their petition to the HCJ in the case of the Amona evacuation.

Regarding the Regulation Bill, Mandelblit is of the opinion that it is not constitutional, even after the amendments to it during its revising in the Knesset. He expressed concern that the law will expedite the preliminary check against Israel in The Hague’s International Court of Justice, saying that it could turn their investigation into Israeli settlements into a lawsuit.’

YnetNews of January 30 reports Defense Minister Lieberman’s views on the bill. ‘Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman declared his party’s support Monday afternoon for the Regulation Bill—which seeks to legalize certain outposts in the West Bank—while cautiously adding that the chances of it actually being ratified by the High Court of Justice (HCJ) were scant. “You don’t need to be a genius. When you read that the Attorney General says that the law is unconstitutional, the chances that it will be thrown out in the HCJ are 100 percent,” he cautioned during the Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting’.

Fearing to lose his constituency to Bennett, Bibi is nevertheless supporting the bill against the advice of his hand picked Attorney General. The courts will probably save Bibi (and Bennett) from a diplomatic disaster.

The evacuation of the illegal outpost of Amona has been completed with minor injuries. As usual, the extremists exploited teen agers to do their dirty work. It’s too early to see how this will play out but the passage of the regularization bill by the Knesset is the revenge of the settlers.

Bibi is also relying on the courts for help in the Kotel wars. Under the leadership of Natan Sharansky, a deal was brokered to provide space at the Kotel for women to pray – including reading from a Torah. (Women’s prayer groups have been a fixture in the Chicago orthodox community for more than 20 years.) This space was also to be used by the less observant streams of Judaism. In return, these groups would not try to use the area of the Kotel that has been (mis)appropriated by the rabbinate. The deal was accepted by the government but the government has since backtracked.

According to a Times of Israel article of January 30, there was a High Court ruling this month ‘which ordered the immediate halt of women being searched for ritual items such as Torah scrolls, and gave the state 30 days to find “good cause” why a woman may not read aloud from a Torah scroll as part of prayer services at the Western Wall. In the interim order, the court also cast doubt on the state’s argument that the Robinson’s Arch area of the plaza constitutes “access to the Western Wall.”

This has the ‘religious’ parties (including Shas led by the convicted criminal Arye Deri) and the chief rabbinate (formerly led by the convicted criminal Yona Metzger) up in arms. ‘a letter was sent to Netanyahu demanding that the issue of pluralistic prayer be brought to the cabinet on Sunday, “because it is incompatible with the ruling of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.”’ Bibi needs the ‘religious’ parties to stay in power. However it is unlikely that they will bring the government down – they are feeding too well at the public trough.

Presumably the courts will rule in favor of the women’s prayer group and the ‘religious’ parties can tell their constituents that they did whatever they could – but they could not prevail against the High Court of Justice (with a few adjectives or expletives thrown in to describe the HCJ).

Reading through this week’s newsletter, it is striking how much of the material exposing Bibi’s misdeeds comes from YnetNews, which is part of the Yediot Achronot enterprise.

About the Author
Richard Chasman, 1934-2018, was a member of the Modern Orthodox community in Chicago. Professionally, he was a theoretical nuclear physicist. Richard, who described his perspective as "centrist," wrote a newsletter for more than 20 years called "Chovevai Tsion of Chicago," on subjects of interest to the Modern Orthodox community.