With the Israeli police recommending that he be indicted, the prime minister is entering a major battle for political survival.
.. Twenty-one years ago, in early 1997, the Israeli police announced its recommendation that Benjamin Netanyahu, then a 47-year-old first-term prime minister, be criminally indicted for breach of public trust.
.. The attorney general in 1997—a well respected jurist beyond suspicion—decided that the case was too weak for trial. Nor did the police recommendation alone cause Netanyahu’s coalition partners to leave the government or go to new elections. And so, the 1997 police recommendation notwithstanding, Netanyahu survived politically and continued to serve until 1999, when he was defeated in the ballot box... he is entering a major, perhaps final battle for political survival... Case 1000, involves a longstanding Netanyahu household practice of receiving regular gifts from a small set of multi-millionaires, some with business interests in Israel... “Receiving gifts from friends is not forbidden” is the Netanyahu public defense... the case reflects the widespread perception that the Netanyahu family enjoys the good life just a little too much for public servants, and often disregards norms and perhaps even the law in pursuit of perks. Netanyahu, in this regard, ushered in an age of leaders who didn’t espouse the modest, even austere image of the early-day Israeli leaders... Case 2000, involves the media, and it is in many ways far more troubling. Netanyahu has been media-focused and media-savvy, more than any other Israeli leader... he Madrid peace conference of 1991. He was armed with perfect English, a baritone voice, and an American style of speaking, replete with well-crafted sound-bites, visual gimmicks, and—a novelty in 1990s Israel—an interest in the minutiae of interviews: how to apply makeup and which camera angle to choose for best effect... He seemed then to be part of a wave of young, attractive American-style politicians around the democratic world, such as Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, and Gerhard Schroder, even if ideologically he was much closer to Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Helmut Kohl... Over the decades, he has paid a great deal of attention to message management, and, increasingly, to management of the media itself... In 2007, however, something dramatic changed. The main newspapers in Israel suddenly found themselves outmatched in their own game: a new publication, Israel Hayom (“Israel Today”) appeared on Israeli streets. Rather than a hostile tone toward Netanyahu, Israel Hayom (also known as the Bibi-paper) propagated an adoring tone toward Netanyahu and his family, and a hostile one toward Olmert, the center, and the left. Israel Hayom’s cover price was unbeatable: 0.00 shekels... No one suffered more from the entry of Israel Hayom than the old papers, chief among them Yediot Ahronot. The Israeli public took up the free publication; when Netanyahu became prime minister Israel Hayom also adopted a positive, optimistic tone about the direction of the country, and all this at no financial cost to the reader. It became the mostly widely read publication, dethroning Yediot Ahronot after many years, and causing havoc throughout the press scene... Case 2000 surrounds a shocking revelation: a tape recording unearthed in a separate investigation of apparent negotiations between Netanyahu and the publisher of Yediot Ahronot. The purported deal was a detente between the two warring factions: the publisher, Noni Mozes, would provide more favorable coverage for Netanyahu in his paper, and Netanyahu would limit the circulation of the competitor Israel Hayom to weekdays, leaving the lucrative weekend editions to Yediot Ahronot... Netanyahu has claimed that he was just bluffing; there was no real quid-pro-quo, merely a proof of precisely what Netanyahu had been saying all these years: The media moguls were out to get him.. the deal never came to fruition.. the police claim, Netanyahu was not bluffing; he convened parliamentarians to see what legislation might be promoted to limit his own ally publication and looked into implementing the deal. He was, they claim, conspiring to use his official position to the benefit of a commercial entity in exchange for a political favor. If a correct interpretation of the facts, that is bribery... Netanyahu has now publicly acknowledged that the “Israel Hayom bill” (not Iran, or the Palestinians, or economic affairs) was the reason for calling the elections.. Some members of his own party would hope that he resign without an election, meaning that one of themwould replace him temporarily... He may point to the letter of Israeli law, which does not require a prime minister’s resignation until conviction (despite precedent to the contrary.. Israelis are correct, however, that the string of corruption cases in the past two decades have brought a new a level of shamelessness to Israeli political life... If his term ends in the coming year it will be because he is forced to: most likely his partners eventually force him to resign, or the voting public opts for someone holding a broom.