It’s anybody’s guess when Bibi’s legal entanglements will be sorted out and verdicts of guilt or innocence will be rendered by the end of the decade, or if the indictments and charges he is currently facing will magically disappear by the wave of a Presidential pardon. Personally, I have no more than a passing interest in Cases 2000 and 4000, although I certainly see them as important and am convinced that Mr. Netanyahu has much to answer for in his defense against the charges relating to fraud and breach of trust. I have, however, been giving some attention to Case 1000 and find the main crux of this case to be more than a little troublesome. The fact that someone occupying the highest office of the nation sees nothing wrong in accepting expensive gifts on an ongoing basis from foreign businessmen looking to further their commercial interests in Israel is indicative of a national leader gone astray; indeed, the inability to recognize when something is at the very least inappropriate – even if legal nuances are not part of the equation – severely compromises his right – or any leader’s right – to the power and responsibility that come with the position.
The high-tech company that I recently retired from requires its 20,000+ worldwide employees to annually review and demonstrate a high-level understanding of a wide spectrum of policies, regulations and laws relating to ethical conduct and behavior in the workplace. The topics cover, among other subjects, the confidentiality of contacts and acquisitions, guidelines related to sexual and gender harassment and equality, and responsibility for the care of company issued equipment and documents. And, oh yes, a significant body of material focuses on the giving and receiving of gifts from both existing and potential clients and vendors. Employees from every level of the company – management, support and maintenance – are expected to be familiar with the protocols involved in the purchase of gifts for those in the decision-making loop or who have influence in the procurement process. Similarly, specific guidelines demand that all gifts received are to be reported and turned over to the designated finance officer or office. Okay, yes, there are exemptions, but those are for gifts below a defined threshold of value. Being treated to a hot dog and a beer at a ball game is one thing; being feted at a five-star restaurant is quite another. Employees of the company are expected, not unfairly, to understand the difference.
One can reasonably assume – or should, anyway – that our government’s employees and elected officials are, too, expected to conform to certain standards of ethical behavior, including matters pertaining to the giving and receiving of gifts. The trouble is, if basic, common sense protocols pertaining to this topic are ignored by someone at the very top, what can be expected of everyone else. Not, I’m afraid, very much.
Both the former prime minister and his wife have rarely been hesitant about demanding from the government’s coffers every shekel that the two deemed were coming to them, even if some creative interpretation of what constituted an “official expense” was more often than not called for. The Israeli taxpayer, over the last 12 or so years, has purchased patio furniture for the Netanyahu’s private residence in Caesarea, fulfilled the prime minister’s insatiable sweet tooth for vanilla and pistachio ice cream, and satisfied the family’s hunger pains with takeout delicacies. But while these items may be questionable and to some extent beyond the boundaries of justifiable purchases, the requested payments or reimbursements were, at least, submitted in accordance with established procedures and appropriately reviewed and approved. Bureaucracy rubber stamping? Perhaps, but at least everything was above board and subject to audit, if and when necessary.
The steady supply and acceptance of pricey cigars and top of the shelf champagne is clearly an affront to the concept to workplace ethics. There is nothing grey in this matter; that Bibi chose to accept these items and not report them would have triggered an immediate investigation had he behaved this way in a corporate environment. Only the most obtuse could fail to perceive that the acceptance of extravagant – and perhaps even not so extravagant – gifts and hospitality can result in serious accusations of unfair partiality and deceit. The Netanyahu’s foolishly assumed that they would be able to shrug off the gifts as inconsequential and personal, and are now paying the consequences for their poor judgement.
Israelis have the right, I believe, to be confident that their elected officials are sensitive to the difference between a bribe and a gift, and that there is often a very thin line between the two. There have been, unfortunately, too many times when that confidence was severely compromised, and put more than few highly placed officials – including a former prime minister – behind bars. If for no other reason than to demonstrate the personal and professional integrity that his fellow members of the government appear to lack, Mr. Netanyahu should have said “Thanks, but no thanks” to the offered bottles of bubbly and cases of stogies, even if no quid pro quo was expected.
As we proudly call ourselves the Startup Nation and have placed footprints in every continent throughout the world, I would like to think that we’ve reached a point in the development of our conduct and behavior that the “everyone does it” argument is no longer valid. Our recently sworn in government must never forget that credibility and trust are built on a foundation of accountability and appearances, which starts at the Balfour Street residence. Bibi remained callously oblivious to this; I trust that the Bennet/Lapid twins will not be.