To topple a country over cigars, champagne and media coverage

It is ridiculous to pack the streets with protests and to self-flagellate over “ethical standards” that do not exist in any real world because those standards are not real. They are ridiculous.

Rabbi Prof. Dov Fischer

OpEds Netanyahu, Mandelblit
Netanyahu, Mandelblit
צילום: PR

In the real world, for those who believe in democracy, I want access to my elected representatives. I want to know I can look them in the eye, tell them what I need, and persuade them to do it for me. I know that, for everything I will ask and need, there will be another constituency with the opposite request and need. So I will need to figure out how to apply pressure, not just appeal to a politician’s conscience and inner voice that says “Do the right thing.”

In the real world, politicians cynically will understand that they deal with horse-trading and bargaining all day. They deal with members of opposing parties, supporters from their own parties who still oppose them on one issue or another, and voters and constituents with all kinds of demands, requests, pleas — all conflicting with each other. In the end, the politician will be persuaded best if the constituent can deliver reciprocally.

That is how ‘clean” democracy works. In America, at least the voter has leverage over his or her Senator or Congressman. In Israel, even that is lost because the political party, not the voters, decides whose name appears on party lists.

A politician cannot ask for or receive a bribe. That is a matter of law, public policy, conscience.  And yet everyone in America knows that, although bribing a politician is absolutely outright forbidden — no “ands, ifs, or buts” — a political contribution, a donation to a suitable cause, always is legal . . . and can be downright deeply appreciated. In America that is why the Saudis spent $27 million last year and why Qatar spent another $16 million. It is why Sheldon Adelson donates hundreds of millions of dollars to Republicans and why so many liberal Jews donate so many hundreds of millions to Democrats. That is how vaunted democracy works: “You rub my back, and I will rub your back.”

No one in Israel knew that?

Israeli “political ethics” sometimes loses all track of reality.  I think back to the blood libel of 1982 against Defense Minister Ariel Sharon for the Shatilla-Sabra killings. Some Lebanese Maronites killed 35 or so mostly young men of terrorist age in the camps where terrorists from all over the world were coming to be trained. And somehow, for internal political gain, the Israeli Left pinned a libel on General Sharon, accusing him of plotting a massacre of innocents. It was a lie, a bald-faced lie.

When he sued Time Magazine in America for defamation, the jury actually found that the publication had gotten its facts and reporting all wrong, but the Defense Minister lost the lawsuit on the legal technicality in America that makes it virtually impossible for famous people and other public figures to win defamation claims. Then he sued in Israel and won.

It is ridiculous to pack the streets with protests and to self-flagellate over “ethical standards” that do not exist in any real world because those standards are not real. They are ridiculous.  In 1982 the Israeli Left still had not made its peace with the fact that Menachem Begin had broken the Left’s stranglehold on Israeli governance, so they did whatever they could to take down Begin and his government. And now they want to take down Prime Minister Netanyahu.

I once admired Arik Sharon and even once enjoyed a minor personal friendship with him, but eventually lost any remaining respect for him as he abandoned and destroyed Gush Katif and essentially handed over Gaza to Hamas. His legacy is the kite bombs and the riots at the southern border and the bi-annual or quadrennial Hamas wars necessitated to “mow the lawn” in Gaza. Yet he was victimized by a blood libel in 1982 over Shatilla-Sabra, and he was great enough to overcome it and rise even greater in Israeli governance.

In the same way, I once admired Bibi greatly, met him a few times (who hasn’t?), and I once really thought he might be “The Guy.” He proved not to be.  I remember what he gave up recklessly at the Wye Conference. All the subsequent settlement freezes. So my politicial allegiances — these days — lie with Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked, and Caroline Glick or the unified Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home)-Ichud Leumi (National Union) slate. But even if Bibi has disappointed me so many times, I will be the first to call these latest “indictments” a fraud and a defamation.

It is the job of Israel’s Prime Minister to respond to constituents. Arnon Milchan is a super-rich Israeli constituent who suddenly got blackballed by the leftist Obama-Kerry Administration. He needed a favor, for the Prime Minister to pick up the phone and to help him with his entry permits to America. That is a legitimate request, and it was legitimate for the Prime Minister to do it.  Politicians do favors for their friends all the time; that is why people loyally support friends of theirs who get elected — to have access. If a politician wants to help his friend get more influence in the media, even to control a television channel, that also is pursued.

And what kind of gift of gratitude does anyone expect a multi-millionaire to give to a Prime Minister?  A T-Shirt that says “I met with a movie producer, and all I got was this crummy T-Shirt”? 
Yes, it is unseemly for the Prime Minister of Israel then to get gifts of expensive cigars and champagne as thanks from someone grateful for the efforts. In Israel, there is a wholesome national strain of economic modesty, born of socialism on one side and of deep-rooted Torah values on the other. It is not our way to stock up on hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of champagne and cigars. A wise politician — and in so many ways Bibi is wisest — would have turned down the gifts, realizing that their appearance is bad. But Bibi had that political blind spot, and he accepted the gifts. He did nothing wrong, nothing unethical, only something stupid.  (And what kind of gift of gratitude does anyone expect a multi-millionaire to give to a Prime Minister?  A T-Shirt that says “I met with a movie producer, and all I got was this crummy T-Shirt”?  A box of Israeli halvah? A box of bamba? Anyone who gives an $8 bottle of wine to a Prime Minister is a bigger fool than the Prime Minister who accepts the cigars and champagne. It just is not done.)

And then Case 2000.  Every politician in a democracy knows that positive media coverage is critical to advancing a political agenda. When a newspaper pursues a vendetta against a politician, it is wholly appropriate for the politician to say “Can we please sit and talk about this?” The alternative is to make speeches, day and night, attacking the media and calling them “Fake News” and the “Enemy of the People” — which, by the way, they quite often are. 

President Trump takes the latter tack.  It wins enormous plaudits from his supporters and intensifies the hate on the other side. Bibi chose something gentler — to meet Arnon Mozes of Yediot Aharonot privately behind closed doors and to see what it would take to tone down the animosity. OK, so Mozes wanted a competing newspaper weakened? In the end, what happened? A bill was presented in Knesset to weaken the competing Adelson newspaper, Yisrael Hayom — Israel Today, and Netanyahu voted against the bill. Nu?

Maybe it takes someone living outside Israel like a Prof. Alan Dershowitz to explain how ridiculous these charges are.
Maybe it takes someone living outside Israel like a Prof. Alan Dershowitz to explain how ridiculous these charges are. If people feel that a politician is giving too much time and support to his friends, the remedy is not a criminal indictment but an election reversal. Vote him out if you do not like it. Every American President favored friends. Obama had the racist anti-Semite Al Sharpton in the White House on more than seventy occasions recorded in the White House guest register. Obama favored his friends, Bush his friends, and all politicians do it.

While Israelis self-flagellate over supposed “ethical standards” that are patently ridiculous, Iran is embedding itself in Syria, Hamas is preparing for war, and Hezbollah is preparing for war. The British Labour Party is overtly anti-Semitic now, with an emphasis on anti-Israel, and the United Nations is considering six hundred and thirteen new anti-Israel resolutions every day. 

The Israeli economy meanwhile is booming under capitalism, and Israeli medical and other technological breakthroughs stun the world.  After decades of losing support around the world, this Prime Minister — cigars, champagne, and all — is building new alliances for Israel that previously were inconceivable with countries once dedicated to Israel’s demise. Putin in Russia, East European governments, South American and African countries, even Arab regimes.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has disappointed me so often, but he has done a heck of great job in so many ways. By contrast, Benny Gantz is an unknown in the realm of government, and Israel has had a long run of successful military generals who messed the country terribly once they transitioned from their area of expertise to their level of mediocrity and incompetence. Rabin left behind Oslo. Barak left behind Intifadas and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Sharon left behind Hamas in Gaza. 

Can anyone name a single Israeli general who did not leave behind a mess after becoming Prime Minister? It is amazing to contemplate that a country would topple itself over nonsensical charges stemming from cigars, champagne, and a politician negotiating for more favorable news coverage.