The last days of Netanyahu
Hebrew media review

The last days of Netanyahu

The news that former confidant Shlomo Filber is turning state witness, coupled with a fresh bribery scandal, piles up into what pundits agree means the prime minister's downfall

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office on February 4, 2018. (AFP Photo/Pool/Jim Hollander)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office on February 4, 2018. (AFP Photo/Pool/Jim Hollander)

By now, the word “earthquake” has become so overused in describing the political scandals surrounding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that it’s hard for one to distinguish between a baby tremor being blown out of proportion, or actually an earth-shattering temblor with a tsunami roaring behind it.

If papers can be believed, the one that struck Tuesday is The Big One, and their pages are filled with almost nothing else other than the news that Communications Ministry head Shlomo Filber is becoming or has become a state witness. (Never mind the fact that there is not a single source for the news, which doesn’t mean it’s not true, but that’s not quite how journalism is supposed to be done.)

Piling on top of that is a fresh scandal in which an adviser for the Netanyahu family is alleged to have tried to bribe a judge to get the prime minister’s wife out of her own legal mess, all of it swirling into a morass that will leave Netanyahu’s term in rubble in the near future, according to the pundits.

Yedioth Ahronoth says Filber’s testimony “is liable to be more dramatic than any others against Netanyahu” and Haaretz puts in its headline that Filber “will admit that the prime minister ordered to give favors to Bezeq.”

Even Netanyahu-backing Israel Hayom plays up the story, though it seems to take aim at Filber’s trustworthiness, noting in its lead that he turned stoolie “after he claimed time after time that he did nothing wrong during his time running the Communications Ministry.”

The real stars of Wednesday’s papers, though, are the pundits, who let loose with a furious barrage of columns predicting the imminent downfall of Netanyahu, taking precedence over even the news, and noting that there seems no end in sight to the pileup against the prime minister.

“It’s over,” writes right-wing columnist Hanoch Daum in Yedioth, a sign that even many of Netanyahu’s backers are abandoning him. “How exactly it will end isn’t clear. The specific date his term will end is not certain, but those are just details … Maybe it will take months or a year, maybe it will be elegant or maybe degrading, maybe it will be a negotiated exit and maybe he’ll go to jail, maybe it will be bribery and maybe breach of trust, maybe he’ll do it himself and maybe it will take 60 state witnesses, but there’s really no point in putting too much energy into these questions for one reason: the party is over.”

Taking his cue from Watergate and the last days of Richard Nixon’s rule, Haaretz editor Aluf Benn thinks he has the answer to one of the questions anyway, and it’s not pretty.

“After the embarrassing tapes of Yair and of Sara Netanyahu, more stories will certainly emerge about conduct in the royal court on Balfour Street in Jerusalem. Testimonies that so far have only been whispered off the record, about interviews that the prime minister’s wife conducted with candidates for senior positions, will be told for all to hear. Folks will suddenly remember all kinds of interference by people around Netanyahu in decisions that were intended to serve the boss and his family,” he writes, noting specifically the case of judge Hila Gerstel offered the bribe of the attorney general’s seat in exchange for quashing probes against Sara Netanyahu.

Columnist Ido Baum calls the new affair “the worst corruption scandal in the country’s history,” far outstripping the last similar case involving Roni Bar-On in 1997.

In the same paper, Ravit Hecht writes that even with all the scandals, don’t expect Netanyahu’s backers to just give in, predicting a bruising fight going forward.

“These are historic days, politically and perhaps for all society. The Bibi camp in Likud is closing ranks and still has a hold over many people on the right who remain afraid to speak up. This bunker isn’t just a habit, it’s designed to curb hysteria in the uncertainty of the post-Netanyahu chaos,” she writes. “This camp won’t blink at breaching the rule of law at the behest of its leader. Before Benjamin Netanyahu steps off the stage, a lot of very painful things are going to happen.”

That is already proven true in Israel Hayom, which begins trying to poke holes in the Gerstel story.

“If there is even an iota of truth to these reports, it would rattle the very foundation of all bodies of government. If there is something to these reports, then corruption has threatened the judicial holy of holies, the Supreme Court,” writes columnist Aviad Hacohen. “If, however, such an offer was made in earnest and not as a joke, Gerstel should have notified the police immediately and without hesitation, just as Chief Justice Esther Hayut, in whom she confided, should have done. The fact that both refrained from doing so, together with the fact that both had remained silent for so long, raises serious questions over the validity of the story.”

In Yedioth, columnist Sima Kadmon also writes that it seems the Gerstel affair was likely a case of advisers going too far and not necessarily Netanyahu’s initiative. But Filber’s testimony is a whole different story, and she wonders how the governing coalition can continue to stay silent in the face of “the golden witness,” aiming her ire at other politicians rather than Netanyahu, whom she already seems to consider a lame duck.

“I cannot remember a period of such flaccidity, lack of leadership, weakness that we have here now. People who want to be leaders are running away from making any statement that could put them at odds with the prime minister,” she writes. “I think of Benny Begin, who visited his father’s grave site this week. How is he silent given what’s happening. What is he afraid of? That he’ll lose the seat that he fills and does nothing with?”

In fact, Israel Hayom reports that there is a “scent of elections” in the air, noting that many in the Knesset think Netanyahu will not wait for the indictments to come down and will go to early elections.

Previewing what an Israel Hayom without a Netanyahu to back might look like, columnist Haim Shine devotes a full-page column to attacking the “Bolshevik, leftist media,” which he says is driven mad by his paper’s success, predicting their downfall and seeing suspicions of Netanyahu’s various attempts to negotiate positive coverage with them as casting a cloud over the outlets and not the prime minister.

“These past few months, the anger of the left and its emissaries in politics and the media has swelled to disturbing proportions,” he writes. “They can’t bear their disgrace. They cannot accept the fact that Israel Hayom isn’t even involved in the storm of negotiations between owners of various media outlets, politicians, tycoons, and vested interests. They are having difficulty handling the simple, acknowledged fact that the owners of Israel Hayom has no economic interests in Israel – they amassed their wealth abroad, and invested in the paper for the sole reason of providing a balance to the hostile media that doesn’t distinguish between opposing the government and opposing the state.”

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