Is Netanyahu Facing an Israeli Spring Moment?
With Middle East politics again ablaze, it is easy for pundits to miss the huge controversy brewing around Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he struggles to keep his composure under the weight of unfriendly allegations.
It is easy; but it is wrong. With Israel’s Channel 2 reporting, back in early September, of an inquiry into claims that Netanyahu had solicited a bribe, something which he vehemently denies, this may be the trigger Israel needs to galvanize people against political mismanagement at the highest levels.
A recent piece by Ben Caspit, respected columnist for Al-Monitor's Israel Pulse, was headlined: “Will Bibi’s love of luxury be his downfall?”
Add to this the likelihood that Hilary Clinton will win the US presidential election – as opposed to the Donald Trump that Netanyahu has posed with – all does not bode well for the Israeli PM’s “Iron Dome” of political protection from Republicans he has enjoyed in the past.
According to Haaretz, Israel’s oldest newspaper, the country’s High Court has instructed the Attorney General, the heads of the State Prosecution and Israel Police to explain within 30 days why they have not opened an investigation into the suspicions against the PM. There have also been other claims that one of Netanyahu’s advisers was funded by a US non-profit organisation.
According to Israeli media, the Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit blocked the investigation, despite senior police officers believing that fraud was involved. Reports claim that 20 witnesses have already testified in preliminary inquiries over corruption and fraud, although unless solid evidence is produced, there will be no official police investigation and the inquiry will be stopped.
Allies of Netanyahu are being questioned.
Last week, French news agency AFP reported that Israeli police plan to question US billionaire and World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder as part of an inquiry into gifts for Netanyahu.
According to the French news agency, Lauder “refused to be questioned after arriving in the country for the funeral of ex-president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Shimon Peres, Channel 2 television reported.” The report stated that an agreement had been reached so that investigators will either travel to New York in the next few weeks or Lauder would return to Israel.
"I am coming from a commemoration for the Babi Yar massacre (the execution of more than 34,000 Jews by the Nazis in Ukraine), and I arrive for the funeral of a good friend ... and you arrest me?" he said, according to Channel 2.
AFP said that an Israeli police spokeswoman declined to comment on the reports.
The agency said that authorities “have been investigating spending and gifts related to Netanyahu, though Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has stressed that a formal investigation has not been opened.
At the same time, “Israeli newspaper Haaretz claimed that police want to question Lauder over gifts he allegedly gave Netanyahu and alleged spending on trips for him. Lauder, whose family founded the Estee Lauder cosmetics firm, is known to be an avid supporter of Netanyahu though their relationship has cooled as more and more information surfaces in relation to allegations that Lauder financed Netanyahu's travels in 2011, according to reports.
“Netanyahu and his aides have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing,” and certainly that is the narrative they will follow. But this story - while continuing to unfold - is more than just another case of political intrigue in one of the Middle East's few examples of dynamic political life.
If the allegations prove to be accurate, then the case punches holes into the trust-based society that Israel was founded on. People are already at their wits end with what they see as systemic failures of governance under Netanyahu's watch.
That the story potentially includes Ronald Lauder, the President of the World Jewish Congress, is doubly problematic since it threatens to drag American and European Jewry into Israeli judicial and political life.
A case of this magnitude may be exactly what is needed to deal out the old guard in Israel and among International Jewry; and deal in a more inclusive set of decision makers that have national interests in mind more than personal gain.
Image source: Haaretz