By James Marlow
From the police chief over the Netanyahu allegations to the Prime Minister’s rivals in verbal warfare for the top job, many in Israel are just switching off and getting on with their lives which is probably not a bad thing to do. But Channel 2 News did come out with a new poll suggesting that the Likud, led by Netanyahu would still be the largest party, receiving 26 seats if an election was held today. That is 4 seats ahead of Yesh Atid and his nearest rival, Yair Lapid, who according to the police, happens to be the key witness in the corruption scandal.
The anti-Netanyahu Channel 10 News network put the Likud on 27 seats closely followed by Yesh Atid at 25. Labour (aka Zionist Union) under their new leader, Avi Gabbay is way behind on 15 – 16 seats which is probably why Gabbay, who is not even a Member of Knesset, attacked Lapid earlier this week.
Gabbay accused the Yesh Atid leader of being “friends” with the Prime Minister because they had previously served in the same government and declared, “We need to replace not only Netanyahu” but the lot of them. Lapid of course hit back saying it was a “ridiculous claim” and that the Zionist Union has not even picked a side on where they stood on corruption.
Then you had a Knesset Internal Affairs committee summoning police commissioner Roni Alsheich to answer accusations that a series of police leaks involving confidential information about the Netanyahu cases were coming from his office.
Alsheich of course denied his office was leaking sensitive matters and claimed they were coming from suspects implicated in the probes. But judging by the reaction from members of the public present, many did not believe this.
The investigation against the Prime Minister and the constant speculation in the media has raised many questions about the police force and its ability to do its job with its trustworthiness now being undermined. Alsheich has briefed journalists and appeared on Channel 2 News earlier this month discussing the case when the Attorney General has still not decided whether there is sufficient evidence to prosecute Netanyahu.
The police have so far recommended two indictments against the Prime Minister. Case 1000 relates to the acceptance of gifts from wealthy Israeli businessman and Hollywood movie producer Arnon Milchen.
Police allege that between 2007 and 2016, Milchen showered Netanyahu and his wife Sara with cigars, champagne and jewellery, often purchased at their request. In 2014, Milchen’s business partner, Australian businessman James Packer, who was also a friend of Netanyahu and his family, allegedly began giving similar gifts to the Netanyahu family.
In exchange for those gifts, the police allege that Netanyahu supported extending a law passed in 2008, when Netanyahu was the head of the parliamentary opposition, that gave returning Israeli expatriates a ten-year exemption on income earned abroad.
According to the police, after Netanyahu returned to office in 2009, Milchen lobbied Netanyahu’s Finance Minister at the time, Yair Lapid, to extend the tax and reporting exemption period from ten to twenty years.
Lapid, who is the key witness against the Prime Minister and his chief political rival reportedly told investigators that Netanyahu asked him twice to advance Milchen’s request to extend the period of tax and reporting exemptions for returning expatriates and new immigrants. Lapid and the Finance Ministry opposed Milchen’s proposal and so it never happened.
The move was also harshly criticized by the U.S. State Department who viewed it as a means to facilitate money laundering. But Israel wanted to attract a high volume of very wealthy immigrants, which Netanyahu believed would benefit society.
By the way, Lapid has also spoken about his own relationship with Arnon Milchen who the police also wish to indict, but Milchen’s lawyers say that the police have no evidence against their client.
“I’ve known Arnon Milchen for 25 years,” said Lapid. “I worked for him for a few months 22 years ago.” The Yesh Atid leader also confirmed, “Of course I reported it,” when asked whether he told the police about advancing the tax exemptions for returning citizens.
It has also been reported that Netanyahu intervened on behalf of Milchen in two proposed deals related to Israeli television networks that Milchen either owned or wished to own. But again, if this occurred, nothing came of it.
The police further say that Netanyahu called then Secretary-of-State, John Kerry and asked him to intervene on Milchen’s behalf when the businessman was experiencing difficulty renewing his US residency. Milchen had a long-distinguished service within Israel’s Mossad and it has been noted that even the late Shimon Peres also intervened on Milchen’s behalf with U.S. authorities. However, the police claim that Netanyahu received more gifts from Milchen in return for this favour.
The second possible charge is known as Case 2000 and involves collusion with the Yediot Ahronot newspaper boss which we will look at more closely next week.
The third week will sum up the evidence on both these cases and The Jewish Weekly readers will get an opportunity to vote online whether Bibi should stay or go.