is No There There
By Caroline Glick
March 1, 2018
One of the distressing aspects of the police probes against
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is that police seem to be attributing
criminality to normal policy-making.
To date, the Bezeq-Walla investigation, dubbed Case 4000 by
the police, is being presented as the mother lode – the probe that will sink
Case 4000 exploded last week with pre-dawn arrests of some
of the most powerful people in Israel. Telecommunications giant Bezeq’s owner
Shaul Elovitch, his wife, Iris, and their son Or were nabbed in their beds. So
was Netanyahu’s former communications chief Nir Hefetz and former
director-general of the Communications Ministry and Netanyahu confidante Shlomo
The headlines screamed “Bribery!” And the reports were
The media reported that the police have hard evidence
Netanyahu and Filber colluded to give Netanyahu’s crony Elovitch hundreds of
millions of shekels in tax and regulatory breaks for Bezeq. In exchange,
Elovitch, who also owns the popular Walla Internet site, agreed to give positive
coverage of Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, on Walla’s news site.
Before we could consider the evidence, Netanyahu’s fate
was sealed. He was a goner.
But when the smoke cleared, it became apparent that there
isn’t anything there.
Netanyahu and Filber did give Bezeq and its subsidiary,
satellite television provider Yes, regulatory and tax breaks.
On the regulatory side, the Communications Ministry agreed to end the forced separation between the two commonly owned corporations.
As Eli Zippori noted last Friday in Globes, far from being
a criminal conspiracy, the move was perfectly sound policy. By allowing the two
companies to work together, the government improved the lot of consumers.
Together they could offer the public discounted service bundles that include
landlines, Internet service and television service.
Moreover, in exchange for permitting them to work together,
Bezeq agreed to permit private Internet providers to operate off of its
communications infrastructure. Today, Zippori noted, 550,000 Israelis receive
Internet through such services.
Would another policy move have brought better results for
the public? Maybe. But that doesn’t mean this policy was wrong or criminal.
As for the tax breaks, it is true that Yes received
hundreds of millions in tax relief. Yet as Zippori noted, Yes’s corporate
losses topped a billion shekels. The Income Tax Authority routinely gives tax
relief to corporations that lose money. And the higher the losses, the higher
the tax break.
Would it have been better for the government to
discriminate against Yes? Maybe. But that doesn’t mean this policy was wrong
So the case that spells Netanyahu’s doom is no case at
all. It’s a policy dispute. It isn’t surprising that the police are trying
to criminalize Netanyahu’s policies in Case 4000. They’re doing the same
thing in Case 1000 and in Case 3000.
Case 1000 involves Netanyahu’s support for amending the
so-called Milchan law. The law, passed in 2008 under the Olmert government,
provides a 10-year income tax and reporting exemption for overseas income. The
law was passed to encourage wealthy expatriates and immigrants to move to
Israel. It is called the Milchan law because businessman Arnon Milchan pushed
very hard to get it passed.
In 2013, Milchan sought to extend the law’s exemptions to
20 years. Netanyahu supported its extension.
The police allege that Netanyahu’s support for the
law’s extension owes to the fact that Milchan gave him free cigars for a
decade or so. The problem with the police’s claim is that Netanyahu’s
position reflects the same economic positions he has held for decades. Moreover,
his position was shared by the Immigration and Absorption Ministry, which like
him, supported the law and the proposed amendment because it encouraged
immigration of wealthy individuals and capital flows into Israel.
Then-finance minister Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid is the
star witness against Netanyahu. Although like Netanyahu, Lapid and Milchan are
old friends, and Lapid met with Milchan twice about the proposed amendment,
Lapid eventually bowed to his ministry’s position that the law induced money
laundering and is therefore problematic.
Was Netanyahu’s position wrong? Did the Finance
Ministry’s position serve the public’s interest better? Maybe. But that
doesn’t mean his policy was wrong or criminal.
In Case 3000, Netanyahu is accused of basing his support
for Israel’s purchase of German submarines on his cronies’ monetary
interests. Netanyahu’s attorney and cousin David Shimron represented the
The problem with this claim is that Netanyahu has publicly
supported expanding and modernizing Israel’s submarine fleet for 20 years.
True, some senior officials in the IDF and the Defense
Ministry oppose expanding Israel’s submarine fleet. Their position is not
without merit. But that doesn’t mean that Netanyahu’s position was wrong or
Yet in all of these cases, the police leakers are telling
the media that Netanyahu’s policy positions were criminal acts. Rather than
reject these claims as absurd on their face, and recognize that they contradict
the basic values of a free society, the media have been mindlessly parroting
Which brings us to Case 2000 and the second half of Case
These investigations revolve around the premise that
Netanyahu engaged in criminal activity when he sought to receive less hostile
coverage from the Yediot Aharonot media group and from Walla news
Yediot publisher Arnon Mozes and Elovitch are accused
of offering bribes to Netanyahu in the form of better coverage in exchange for
governmental support for their business interests. In Mozes’s case, he asked
Netanyahu to act against Israel Hayom, Yediot’s primary competitor.
In Elovitch’s case, Netanyahu allegedly agreed to provide Bezeq/Yes with
regulatory and tax breaks in exchange for supportive coverage in Walla.
There are two problems with these allegations. First, Yediot’s
implacably hostile coverage of Netanyahu never improved. And, as an inquiry at
Mida website this week demonstrated, like Yediot, Walla’s coverage of
Netanyahu is relentlessly negative.
Investigations 2000 and 4000 are predicated on a draconian
premise that rejects the very notion of freedom of speech and expression. The
premise is that any time a reporter writes about a public figure, he is offering
that public figure a bribe. His expectation in writing his article is that at
some point, the politician will pay him back for his work.
Conversely, if a reporter writes negatively about a public
figure, he is extorting him. Under this premise, Mozes and Elovitch gave
Netanyahu bad coverage because that gave them a bargaining chip against him. In
exchange for better coverage, they could expect him to do something for them.
In other words, these probes assume that all reporting is
inherently corrupt and criminal.
All of the police probes suffer from another problem –
they all scream out selective law enforcement.
As Zippori notes, whereas Case 4000 is premised on the
notion that a pro-business regulatory environment is inherently criminal,
investigators never probed an even larger tax break the Communications Ministry
conferred on Yes’s top competitor, the HOT cable television provider.
According to Zippori, HOT received tax breaks totaling more
than a billion shekels over several years. It received these tax breaks despite
the fact that it failed to abide by its obligation to provide cable service
During the period HOT received the tax breaks, Mozes and
his partner Eliezer Fishman were major shareholders in the company. The tax
breaks continued when Mozes’s close friend Patrick Drahi bought their shares.
In other words, Netanyahu and Filber are being treated like
Al Capone for giving standard tax breaks to Yes, which is owned by his friend
Elovitch. Fliber’s predecessor Avi Berger gave tax breaks to Netanyahu’s
nemesis Mozes, and the media is treating him like a principled professional.
This brings us back to Case 2000. Netanyahu is accused of accepting a bribe of good coverage from Mozes and in exchange working to curtail the operations of Israel Hayom, Mozes’s chief competitor. Never mind that Netanyahu did no such thing, and preferred to bring down his own government in 2014 rather than harm Israel Hayom.
Forty-three members of Knesset voted in favor of the
“Israel Hayom bill” that would have shut down Mozes’s competitor.
They are not under investigation.
Lapid, the star witness against Netanyahu in the Milchan
law probe, met twice with his old friend Milchan to discuss the law during his
tenure as finance minister. Lapid never reported his meetings.
And he’s the star witness against Netanyahu, not the
subject of a probe.
Lapid’s Yesh Atid party went out of its way to advance
Mozes’s financial interests. Not only did more than half of Yesh Atid
lawmakers vote for the “Israel Hayom bill.” Lapid’s ministers –
then-education minister Shai Piron, then-minister of social affairs Meir Cohen
and then-science minister Yaakov Peri, paid Yediot millions of shekels
from their ministries’ budgets for advertising.
And they all received fantastic coverage.
And none of them is under investigation.
The final problem with the investigations of Netanyahu is
that as we saw this week, the police’s openly obsessive desire to “get”
Bibi is corrupting the law enforcement and judicial community.
This week Channel 10 published text messages sent between
magistrate’s court judge Ronit Poznansky-Katz and Israel Securities Authority
investigator Eran Shaham-Shavit. In their text exchange, the two discussed and
agreed on the length of continued confinement of suspects detained in Case 4000.
It is possible to read their exchange, in which they
discuss the police investigators’ obsession with keeping the suspects remanded
to jail, as friendly banter. It is also possible to interpret their text
exchanges more critically. Shaham-Shavit wrote: Police investigators “almost
beat me up or arrested me.” He angered them because he supported releasing the
suspects earlier than the police investigators did. Poznansky-Katz’s responded
sympathetically, “I think there is nothing scarier than that.”
It’s easy to read this as two colleagues commiserating
about out of control police investigators ready to run over anyone who stands
between them and their prey – Prime Minister Netanyahu.
However you interpret their exchange, the fact is that
their messages were a crime. They coordinated Poznansky-Katz’s rulings before
the defendants were allowed to present their cases. Yet, whereas Netanyahu’s
advisers and friends are treated like mafia bosses for advancing legal policies,
Poznansky-Katz and Shaham-Shavit were let off with administrative slaps on their
And we’re supposed to believe in the justice system.
It is easy to get swept away in the flood of prejudicial
leaks and biased reporting that have already indicted, tried and pronounced
Netanyahu’s guilt. But when you analyze the actual cases being assembled
against him, it becomes clear that not only is there nothing there, these probes
themselves represent an unprecedented assault on the basic norms of Israel.