Kafe Knesset for August 8
When it rains, it pours: Trouble just continues to pile up on PM Netanyahu’s desk. Against the backdrop of the numerous investigations, the Supreme Court ordered the PM to reveal the dates and length of his phone calls with Sheldon Adelson and the former editor in chief of Israel Hayom Amos Regev. In a dramatic decision in an ongoing case, initiated by Channel 10 journalist Raviv Drucker, the Supreme Court overturned a previous decision made by the Tel Aviv District Court. The lower court had accepted Adelson’s and Regev’s claim that publishing the information would be a breach of their privacy. The Supreme Court, however, stated that there is a “heavy public interest in exposing the information.” Now, Netanuahu is forced to publish the dates of the phone conversations between him, Adelson and Regev in the years 2012-2015, and everyone is waiting to see if there is any connection between the details and various news headlines in Israel Hayom. This data could strengthen the argument that Bibi acted as the de facto editor in chief of the freebie newspaper.
Last night more bad news emerged for the Netanyahus as Channel 2 reported that Attorney General Avihai Mandelblit is expected to announce an indictment against Sara Netanyahu in the “Residence Affair” in the upcoming weeks. The PM’s wife will first be granted a hearing, and only after that will a final decision be made. However, a clear-cut statement from the AG accusing her of fraud and using public funds for private expenses, is likely to exacerbate already existing tensions in the Netanyahu household. The so-called “Residence Affair” includes several subplots, such as an electrician, Avi Fahima, who was used by the Netanyahus in their Caesarea residence on weekends against state regulations and instructions. The “Residence Affair” also includes food and personal chef orders for family and private events billed to the prime minister’s residence, and employing Sara Netanyahu’s late father’s caregiver on the government payroll.
The Channel 2 news broke while Bibi and Sara were hosting the President of Togo for an official dinner. It appears the Netanyahus are trying to keep busy and demonstrate the “business as usual” strategy reported here yesterday. Yesterday, the PM met with a group of Democratic congressmen visiting Israel, led by Steny Hoyer. Later this week, the PM will be meeting a similar GOP delegation led by Kevin McCarthy. Today, he went on a security field tour with the security cabinet, and visited the Israeli soldier who was wounded in the Yavne terror attack last week, who is recovering from his wounds in hospital.
Rallying the Likud troops: Tomorrow, however, Netanyahu has a special treat scheduled: a mass Likud Rally in Tel Aviv. Coalition chairman David Bitan, who is emerging as the biggest Bibi loyalist in recent weeks, announced the demonstration earlier this week, and is pressuring ministers, MKs, and activists to arrive and show support for the PM. Quite a few senior Likudniks have already announced that they RSVPed “Yes.” Bitan is assisted by Bibi’s people in the Likud, who are even organizing buses to bring the supporters out in droves from the local party headquarters around the country. This Saturday, Bitan brought together about 1,000 supporters for a rally in Petach Tikva, aimed at countering the weekly anti-corruption protests against the AG and the PM, but this time the masses are expected to be joined by guests of honor – the Netanyahus themselves.
The long haul: Ten people were indicted on corruption charges today, in connection to the Yisrael Beytenu scandal. You may have forgotten the scandal by now, so here’s a quick summary, Faina Kirshenbaum, then deputy interior minister and Yisrael Beytenu secretary-general, allegedly accepted bribes in exchange for making sure some organizations got government grants and funding. The State Prosecutor’s office says the organizations would get the money, and she would get a percentage of it in cash, expensive gifts or paid trips abroad. Other party officials with government positions allegedly took part in the scheme over an eight year period. Kirshenbaum was charged with bribery, fraud, breach of trust, money laundering and tax offenses today, and former Tourism Minister, Stas Misezhnikov, is expected to be indicted soon for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, as well as drug charges and obstruction of justice.
This investigation became public in December 2014. That is over two and a half years ago. The length of the Kirshenbaum investigation is worth noting that for those who are following the PM”s investigations. Some observers have been getting ahead of themselves thinking that a daily news cycle related to Netanyahu corruption allegations means he will be out of office or even in jail so soon. As Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has taken to pointing out in interviews, the law only says a prime minister has to resign if he or she is convicted of a crime with moral turpitude, and, even then, only at the end of the appeals process. If it took two and a half years for Kirshenbaum just to be indicted, even if Netanyahu turns out to be guilty, he has years before the law would force him out of office. The only manner for him to be forced out of office before that is public pressure. Some of that public pressure is building up, but certainly not in his Likud party, as tomorrow’s big rally will surely indicate.