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Bibi gate: Bibi is innocent! Bibi gate: Bibi is innocent!
by Joseph Gatt
2019-12-31 11:44:31
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Right now the main lines of defense for Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been indicted on charges of fraud and bribery, have been as follows: they either say “he's corrupt but so is everyone else” or “he should be acquitted because he's done so much good for Israel.”

But I would say in Bibi's defense that he has done nothing against the law. In Case 1000, Bibi is accused of receiving gifts and that there might have been favorable legislation for film mogul Arnon Milchan and casino and media mogul James Packer.

bib001_400Apparently, Milchan, Packer and others have given around 250,000 dollars worth of cigars and champagne among other gifts to Netanyahu. Investigators are looking into whether Netanyahu provided favors in exchange for those gifts, and so far the only hint of reciprocity is one where Netanyahu may have facilitated a US visa to Milchan.

What I can say in Bibi's defense is that there exists a gift culture in politics. Israeli soldiers receive flowers and baked goods from strangers who are thankful they defend the homeland. Higher-ranking military officials receive laptops, video game consoles, cookies and candy, and in some cases boxes of fruit, vegetables or food stuffs, in some cases cigars, wine and champagne as a gesture to thank them for defending the nation.

Now when my mother spends a Friday baking cookies and other goods for the chayalim (IDF soldiers) she's not bribing them, is she? The Prime Minister gets the equivalent of cookies as a gesture of thankfulness for spending day in and day out defending the nation against all kinds of threats, while helping the nation thrive.

Now the Prime Minister is a human being and is allowed to have friends, including personal friends. Bibi recently exchanged gifts and memorabilia with the IDF unit he led 50 years ago in a very touching 50-year reunion ceremony. And the Prime Minister has rich friends who give him champagne and cigars. They could have given him an apartment or an SUV or a private jet or something. And if the Prime Minister helps a friend get a visa to the US, that's petty. That's not bribery!

Now was there favorable legislation by Bibi toward his friends who “showered” him with gifts? Casinos are still illegal in Israel (and crazy Israelis still have to go to Cyprus to gamble) and Milchan's movies apparently did not get favorable access in Israeli movie theaters or television, and even if they did, what's wrong with Israeli channels airing the movies of an Israeli producer?

Case 2000. Israel Hayom and the Yediot Aharonot are the two most widely-read newspapers in Israel. Israel Hayom has free circulation (would be the Israeli equivalent of “Metro”) while the Yediot Aharonot is more widely-read in its online form in the Ynet website. Ynet was very anti-Bibi and very anti-Right wing, and is more of “liberal” newspapers with strong anti-religious and anti-traditional-Jewish-values kind of editorial line, which is a secular nationalist one. Israel Hayom being a free newspaper up for grabs for anyone to read, Israel Hayom tries to be an “all-inclusive” kind of newspaper where “all views” tend to be represented, including conservative and liberal views.

Apparently, Bibi called Yediot Aharonot owner Noni Moses and promised him “unfavorable” legislation toward Israel Hayom (Ynet's biggest competitor) in exchange for Ynet hiring pro-Bibi journalists. While there seems to be evidence of the phone call which was indeed recorded, there's no evidence of Israel Hayom suffering in any way from Israeli legislation, there seems to be no Bibi-backed legislation against Israel Hayom, in fact Bibi gave preferential treatment to former Israeli ambassador to Mauritania and current Israel Hayom editor-in-chief Boaz Bismuth by granting Bismuth two (or was it three) exclusive interviews, including the highly coveted Yom Hatsmaut (Independence day) interview. Ynet used to be very anti-Bibi, did moderate its stance on Bibi a bit (and stop all the smearing) but Ynet maintains views that to me come closer to the Center-right.

Now to Case 4000. Now Bibi allegedly took the post of Telecommunications minister to facilitate deals for telecom giant Bezeq in exchange for “favorable coverage on media site Walla.” If you ask any Israeli, Walla is the website that pops up when you sign out of your Walla email server and that mostly deals with fashion and lifestyle. Political articles are only put forward when breaking news events occur, otherwise it's mostly food, fashion, entertainment and lifestyle.

Now if you know anything about telecommunications, you know that a big chunk of your work will be dealing with the government. You have to build antennae and fiber optic cables, need access to satellite services, and you need to deal with pretty much every city and town in the country, large and small, to penetrate the market so users can have access to internet and media services.

Israel has a peculiar political system. Ministers are appointed based on party membership, not political skills or knowledge. So given the urgency of procedures to get any telecommunications group to get the job done, you need a first class man in the telecommunications ministry. The question is whether Bibi conditioned the acceleration of procedures for Bezeq to implement its projects in exchange for bribes, but there's no evidence that Bibi made any buck or penny for helping them out. As for “favorable treatment on Walla!” I would sue Shlomo Artzi and Keren Peles and Eyal Golan because they are the ones getting favorable treatment from Walla!, not Bibi.

Anyway I hope Bibi stays in power and remains confident that he will be acquitted of all charges. What angers me is people compare Bibi to Ehud Olmert or Moshe Katzav, but we're really dealing with completely different stuff here. Olmert made money in exchange for construction projects as mayor of Jerusalem, and Katzav is a convicted rapist. Nothing to do with Bibi.

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