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Bibi Netanyahu

The chief Israeli prosecutor investigating Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu on suspicion of graft has indicated there are grounds for indicting Israel's leader. If so, this could now start the dominoes falling leading to Netanyahu's eventual resignation. However, the final say on charging Bibi is up to her boss, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, a former close aid of the Prime Minister. But let's not put the cart before the horse.

First, this is how the dramatic development has unraveled. On May 5th, Tel Aviv District Prosecutor Attorney Liat Ben-Ari addressed an informal gathering of lawyers in the city. She did not mention Netanyahu by name but spoke in general about the bribing of politicians and public officials in Israel.

       “No one gets or requests gifts valued at hundreds of thousands of shekels (3.6 shekels to one U.S. dollar) from friends. In many cases, friendship is often raised as a real contention, but it cannot explain every gift. When we're speaking about hundreds of thousands of shekels given to a public official, I find it hard to accept that this is simply a gift from one friend to another. The nature of this friendship must be examined in every case, when it began as well the size of the gift.”

Bibi has repeatedly denied he broke the law by accepting expensive gifts that included cigars and champagne for his wife Sarah. Since the start of the police investigation that began months ago, the PM has said repeatedly:

       “Nothing will come out of it, because there is nothing!”

Likely, Ben-Ari would not have addressed the subject at a public gathering if she were not convinced there are sufficient grounds for prosecuting Bibi. It is also highly unusual for such a senior prosecutor to go public before her boss announces his decision. Why did she decide to do so? Consider this: Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit formerly served as Bibi's Cabinet Secretary. It is fair to say the Cabinet Secretary is the PM's right-hand-man. In fact, Bibi had actually proposed that Mandelblit step up to become Attorney General.

At the time, Israel's Hugh Court heard petitions against the appointment that contended there was a serious 'conflict of interests' in allowing the PM's closest pal to become overnight Attorney General, who might one day have to decide against his former boss. However, the High Court ruled that Mandelblit had a sterling record of integrity and could also be counted upon to do the right thing. So, maybe the Chief Prosecutor wanted to make her position public, before any final and irrevocable decision would be taken by the Attorney General. Attorney Ben-Ari is leading a team of top financial lawyers and it's a safe to assume they agree with her remarks.

In response to the gravity of Ben-Ari's comments, Netanyahu and his lawyers have issued this reaction:

       “There are absolutely no grounds for contending there was any wrongdoing between the Prime Minister and his friends. First of all, the close friendship between the families is a clear-cut fact that cannot be refuted, and this friendship extended back to the time when the PM was a private citizen. We reject the amounts that are quoted. In any case, the cigars were given many times over seventeen years of friendship. Therefore, the claim they amounted to hundreds of thousands of shekels were involved over seventeen years. It follows that the claim as if one gift of hundreds of thousands of shekels or many gifts, each one amounting to hundreds of thousands of shekels is simply incorrect. Thirdly, during the period of these seventeen years there were no joint interests or reciprocation involved. We repeat - there was nothing, and therefore nothing will come out of all of this.”

Prosecutor Ben-Ari is sticking to her guns:

       “The Israeli legislator determined that a bribe is not only an envelope handed over in secret under the proverbial bridge. According to the law, a gift of 100 shekels is a bribe in every sense of the law. And the trend now is to narrow the law and not broaden it.”

She noted that former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was also found guilty (among other more serious bribes) of accepting a hotel accommodation of $4700 that was paid for by private American citizen Moshe Talansky. (Olmert is now behind bars.) Things don't look great for Bibi at the moment. But his supporters are rallying to his cause, branding Ben-Ari as just another Leftist out to topple the PM.

It recalls the case of current Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who was also the subject of an intense investigation that lasted for years and also involved suspicion of financial corruption. Another leading prosecutor was absolutely convinced she and her team had the goods on Lieberman. However, at the time Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein, a former defense lawyer, refused to prosecute Lieberman in a highly controversial decision. So it is definitely not over till it's over - who is to say this will not happen again and Bibi will remain in office and lead the Likud into the next election that must be held before Nov. 5th, 2019?


David Essing


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