By Daniel Ofman
Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
Benjamin Netanyahu arrived in Washington D.C. Sunday morning for a five-day visit in the U.S. His schedule is packed with speeches and large forums, including appearances at AIPAC and The Economic Club. He will meet with President Donald Trump and later with members of congress. Next, he will head to New York, where he will attend an event commemorating the 30th anniversary of Natan Sharansky’s release from Soviet prison. He will even stop by the U.N. where he will visit a brand-new Jerusalem exhibit.
Of course, there will also be a 10,000-pound elephant accompanying Netanyahu into each room, gallery and hall he enters. Israeli Police are investigating Netanyahu for allegations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Netanyahu doesn’t want this to be the focus of his trip, yet it looms over it notwithstanding all his denials.
Since January, Netanyahu has already spent some 14 days outside of Israel. He’s taken trips to India, Davos, Sochi and Munich. Back at home, the police investigations are reaching their boiling point. On Feb. 13, the Israeli Police issued a formal recommendation to Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, to charge Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
What are the specific allegations? It’s been difficult keeping track of Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump administration’s alleged collusion with the Russian state, however in comparison, the whirlwind of cases surrounding Netanyahu and his administration are similarly extensive and convoluted. Here’s a breakdown of the four main cases being investigated by Israeli Police:
In this case Netanyahu is accused of receiving tens of thousands of dollars worth of gifts from Israeli Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Australian businessman James Packer. Netanyahu allegedly accepted these gifts between 2007 and 2016, and they grew in value and frequency with time. Some gifts include champagne, flights, cigars, hotel rooms, and even jewelry for Sara Netanyahu, the Prime Minister’s wife. In exchange the, the New York Times reported that “Mr. Netanyahu lobbied the secretary of state at the time, John Kerry, and the United States ambassador to Israel at the time, Daniel B. Shapiro, to help Mr. Milchan deal with a problem extending his visa, which had ‘far-reaching financial significance’ to the producer.”
In this case Netanyahu is alleged to have conspired with Arnon Moses, publisher of Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s second largest newspaper. Israeli Police claim that Netanyahu offered to use his influence to weaken the tabloid Israel Hayom, in exchange for favorable coverage. Israel Hayom has the highest circulation amongst Israeli papers, and its staunchly pro-Netanyahu stance is supported by the paper’s billionaire publisher, Sheldon Adelson.
In a separate case, Ari Harow, Netanyahu’s former aide, agreed to serve as a witness in the case against Netanyahu. Haaretz reported that “In exchange for testifying against Netanyahu, American-born Ari Harow, the prime minister’s former chief of staff, will avoid jail time in a separate case.” The content of some of the conversation between Netanyahu and Moses were recorded on Harow’s smartphone, and Harow was allegedly involved in the negotiations between Netanyahu and Moses.
Netanyahu is not suspected in this case directly, however, some members of his inner circle are involved. Israeli Police alleged businessman Michael Ganor, and lawyer David Shimron, Netanyahu’s cousin and personal lawyer, were involved in a corrupt sale of German submarines to Israel. Police have accused Ganor for bribing government officials to influence a decision to purchase four patrol boats and three Dolphin-class submarines from a German company called thyssenkrupp. The sale cost Israel about two billion euros, and Shimron pushed the deal through despite the Israeli Ministry of Defence’s opposition to the deal. The police did not give a formal recommendation to indict Netanyahu in this case.
According to the allegations, Netanyahu leveraged his position and power as communications minister to make favorable regulatory decisions for Bezeq, Israel’s biggest telecommunications company. Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch also owns a popular news website in Israel called Walla. In exchange for Netanyahu’s favorable policies towards Bezeq, Elovitch would give Netanyahu and his wife Sara favorable coverage. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.
Israeli Police issued a formal recommendation to charge Netanyahu, however it is important to remember that a recommendation is not an indictment. In the coming months, Mandelblit will evaluate all the evidence and continue interviewing various parties, including the prime minister and his wife. This process is in motion and as recently as March 2, just a day before Netanyahu’s departure for the U.S., Israeli police interrogated Netanyahu and wife Sara on issues pertinent to case number 4000. However, this information gathering process could take months, and most likely, if Netanyahu is indicted, he won’t be charged for all four cases.
What will Netanyahu do if he is indicted? On the surface Netanyahu has denied almost everything and in a recent video posted on Facebook, after the 5-hour police interrogation, Netanyahu said that he feels “confident that nothing will come of it.” He has stated that these claims are a distraction, a bunch of fake news.
In 2008, former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert stepped down from his post and said that he would not run for re-election. Olmert’s resignation came before he was indicted with charges of bribery, fraud and other forms of corruption. However, Netanyahu is not showing any signs of going down without a fight. For now, he intends to focus on international issues, which he will emphasize during his U.S. visit. Subjects like moving the U.S. embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem, Iran’s involvement in Syria, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be his priorities. Anything to avoid the big elephant in the room.
Daniel Ofman is a senior journalism major. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.