Those bribery allegations against Netanyahu look awfully thin

By —— Bio and Archives--February 16, 2018

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Those bribery allegations against Netanyahu look awfully thin

I am certainly not an expert on Israeli law, and maybe the police have more than they’re letting on. But while the American media are jumping pretty excitedly on the storyline that Benjamin Netanyahu is in trouble over potential bribery charges, neither the known facts nor the reaction of Israel’s political class seem to suggest this amounts to much.

Here’s how Reuters summarizes the facts as they’ve been made public to date:

Police named Arnon Milchan, a Hollywood producer and Israeli citizen, and Australian businessman James Packer, as having given gifts that included champagne, cigars and jewelry to Netanyahu and his family.

In all, the merchandise was worth more than one million Israeli shekels ($280,000), the statement said. Any legal proceedings would probably focus on whether political favors were sought or granted.

Netanyahu’s lawyers said the presents were simply tokens of friendship. Milchan’s lawyer, Boaz Ben Zur, told Reuters that the bribery allegation against his client was “baseless”.

“There is a very long process ahead, and we believe it will stop before any indictment,” Ben Zur said.

In an emailed statement, a spokesman for Packer said: “There is no allegation of wrongdoing on Mr. Packer’s behalf. The Israeli and Australian police have confirmed that he was interviewed as a witness, not a suspect.”

The second investigation, Case 2000, alleged “bribery, fraud and breach of trust by the prime minister” relating to his dealings with Arnon (Noni) Mozes, publisher of the biggest-selling Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.

Netanyahu and Mozes, police said, discussed ways of slowing the growth of a rival daily newspaper, Israel Hayom, “through legislation and other means”. Police said they believed there was sufficient evidence to charge Mozes with offering a bribe.

Now if Netanyahu really accepted $280,000 in gifts, that’s a nice haul. Many politicians refuse to accept gifts of any size from anyone, for any reason, simply to avoid the veritable “appearance of impropriety.” Some people are so obsessive about it that they won’t even let you pick up the tab for a cup of coffee, as absurd as that sounds, and is.

I wasn’t going to sell out the fate of the western world for Bob’s sake, but then he paid for my coffee so I felt obligated.

As a matter of law, though, bribery only occurs when a public official accepts cash or gifts in exchange for some use of their public office that benefits the gift giver. You can give someone all the crap you want, but if they don’t do anything for you in return, then you didn’t bribe them. You may feel you gained some loyalty or good will, but that alone doesn’t make it a bribe.

I don’t know if it’s customary in Israel for the police to announce they have evidence to support charging someone with a crime before they’ve actually filed the charges. It would be weird if it happened here, and it feels weird to me at least that it happened there. I have no idea what the political inclinations of police officials might be. If they’re supportive of Netanyahu rivals, maybe they thought they could damage the prime minister simply by making the public statement, regardless of whether they could ever really prove bribery or whether prosecutors ever actually bring charges.

This sounds a little like the sort of thing the haters of Donald Trump try to do: Dropping innuendo about everything from sexual misconduct to treason without really doing anything formal to act on what they’re alleging, simply to damage the man’s reputation. A recent look at President Trump’s approval rating suggests that this is backfiring, as people are getting tired of smoke with no fire and would like to see the federal government just get on with the business of governing already.

If the accusations against Netanyahu are equally flimsy, I suspect the political dynamic in Israel will be much the same.

Maybe there’s more to this than we’ve seen so far, but to date even rival parties aren’t saying anything about Netanyahu being forced from his office. That’s probably because there’s not much to this bribery business, but I bet it’s also because the external threats Israel faces right now are particularly serious, and the Trump/Netanyahu alliance finally offers a serious concerted effort by America and Israel to stand up to those threats.

If I care about Israel (and I do), I don’t want to jeopardize that over allegations as thin as this.

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Dan Calabrese -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Dan Calabrese’s column is distributed by HermanCain.com, which can be found at HermanCain

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