Those who know Ari Harow describe him as a straight arrow. Now some believe he could be the one to bring down Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
For years, Harow, 44, has been one of Netanyahu’s closest confidants and a chief cog in his political machine. But despite this, he has remained largely unknown to the Israeli public until now, when it was revealed on Friday that Harow had signed an agreement to turn state’s witness as part of ongoing investigations into alleged corruption by Israel’s premier.
Harow is very “low-key and discreet,” Odelia Karmon, a former Netanyahu adviser, told Channel 2 news on Friday, calling him very modest and saying he was someone who was never involved in the political intrigue that so often dogged Netanyahu’s inner circle. “He is a very straight man.”
Harow fits the mold of the type that Netanyahu has frequently chosen to head or play key roles in his office: young American-Israelis from the national religious camp. While others have sought the limelight — like Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett, or current Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer — Harow stayed largely in the background during several stints in the high-profile position as Netanyahu’s chief of staff.
Harow was born in Los Angeles and moved with his family to Israel in 1985, when he was 12, living in the West Bank settlement of Karnei Shomron.
After completing his army service he moved back to the US to study in New York, before returning again to finish a Master’s degree in Political Science at Tel Aviv University.
It was at this time that he first stated working with Netanyahu, volunteering for him in 2002 as an adviser on Diaspora affairs, and more crucially on fundraising.
He then moved back to the US for several years where he headed the American Friends of Likud.
It was during this period that he was first linked to allegations of financial irregularities surrounding Netanyahu and the so-called Bibi Tours scandal in which, as finance minister a decade ago, Netanyahu had private donors and organizations fund most of his trips as well as cover travel expenses for his wife and children, and failed to clear the information with the Knesset.
According to the Haaretz daily, the American Friends of Likud were also paying the salary of Karmon, who was working as Netanyahu’s media adviser.
The Bibi Tours issue was first reported by Channel 10 in 2011 and, while a state comptroller’s report found ethical problems, no charges were ever filed.
By 2008, Harow was back in Israel, started working for Netanyahu as the head of his office, and was with him when he returned to power in 2009.
Harow left politics in 2010 to start a political consultancy firm, which works with politicians and political campaigns. He served a second stint as the PM’s bureau chief in 2014, and directed the election campaign that kept Netanyahu in office in the 2015 national elections.
But police began investigating Harow on suspicion that when he came back to work for Netanyahu in 2014, he only fictitiously sold his consulting firm, rather than genuinely doing so, as was required.
On Friday police announced that Harow is expected to receive six months of community service and a NIS 700,000 fine ($193,000) on breach of trust charges in exchange for his testimony against his former boss.
His former colleagues said that Harow was a particular favorite of Netanyahu and very trusted. He is expected to have crucial information in both cases against Netanyahu.
“Ari Harrow, you have to understand, sat on the seam between the political and the personal, between the family of Netanyahu and the national, between the bureau and the home,” Yoaz Hendel, a former communications director for Netanyahu, told Channel 2. “On these seams — all the grey episodes happened.”
In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.
Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister hobble a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, through Knesset legislation in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.
Harow is expected to provide information in both probes, having served as chief of staff during the time of the alleged deal with Mozes and while Netanyahu is said to have received gifts worth thousands of shekels.
The recordings of Netanyahu’s conversations with Mozes were made on Harow’s phone and discovered by police during their investigation into his sale of his consultancy.
On Friday, Hebrew media reported that police would now suggest indicting Netanyahu. A police recommendation does not carry legal weight. It is for state prosecutors to decide whether to press charges.
Netanyahu, who has denied any wrongdoing, dismissed the latest developments, calling them “background noise.”
In a short video posted early Friday evening before the start of Shabbat, Netanyahu said: “I want to tell you, citizens of Israel, I don’t pay attention to the background noises, I continue in my work on behalf of you. Shabbat shalom.”
Harow’s family suggested that his legal problems were all a result of attempts to bring down Netanyahu.
“What really bothers me is that no one is paying attention to the obvious: that this whole exercise against Ari and those around Bibi is to get Bibi,” Harow’s mother told Channel 2, using the prime minister’s nickname.
“What I can tell you is that Ari is one of the most honorable, trustworthy people I know. And I think that he was close to Bibi because Bibi knew he could trust him. That’s what I know,” she said.