For nearly a week the Israeli press has been trawling around searching for the White Whale, hoping to harpoon the prime minister and his personal lawyer on the crucifix of conflicts of interests in a multi-billion shekel deal for some German submarines.
The sonar is pinging louder than ever Monday morning with Yedioth’s front page, which seems to be claiming to finally have das boot in its gunsights. Yet the news that the attorney general has torpedoed any chance of investigating the case leaves the burbling Israeli press more mixed up than the metaphors you’ve just had to swim through.
Indeed, while Yedioth’s front page, which screams “Here’s how Shimron pressured Israel into creating a German shipyard in Israel,” seems to indicate that the hunt is at least nearing the Red October, its revelations are a bit less damning.
The paper reports on a document written up by the unions running the current Israeli shipyard – which is managed by the Navy — detailing how attorney David Shimron, representing businessman Michael Ganor who is trying to broker a deal with a German shipbuilder, is trying to move the shipyard into private German hands, a move the unions oppose, and, according to the paper, where the real money is.
The expose shockingly reveals how the dastardly Shimron tried to represent his clients’ business interests by trying to convince the unions that the move would benefit the workers.
While the story mentions in passing that Shimron is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyau’s personal lawyer, it fails to link Netanyahu to any of Shimron’s dealings, or any actual wrongdoing beyond pissing off some union longshoremen.
“Fairness requires me to note that attorney Shimron said from the start of the meeting that this is not a political meeting, but rather a business one,” the paper quotes from a letter written by army workers union head Moshe Friedman. “It seems his theory is that it’s better for the German firm and the army workers organized in the union to conduct talks and reach an agreement, and not to get a diktat from above that’s the result of a Defense Ministry decision.”
With a weak-sauce scandal like that, it’s not hard to see why Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and the Justice Ministry announced they won’t be involving the police in the case, a move which has Netanyahu-backing Israel Hayom celebrating and lefty broadsheet Haaretz barely holding back a crimson tide of rage.
“No suspicions of criminal wrongdoing,” Israel Hayom crows from two separate identical headlines on Pages 1 and 2-3. The paper’s coverage is heavy on defenses of Netanyahu and Shimron and also includes a copy of Shimron’s polygraph test over the question of whether he involved Netanyahu in the German submarine purchase deal.
“Shimron was found by the test to be speaking the truth on all questions,” the paper reports, adding that Shimron himself requested and paid for the polygraph test. What’s not included is the fact that polygraphs are considered to be junk science pretty much everywhere outside of Israel. Perhaps he will bring in tarot cards to show his innocence next.
Haaretz reports that while the criminal case is closed, justice officials will continue to look into the possible conflict of interests arising from the affair.
But that bone is not quite enough for Raviv Drucker, the journalist who broke open the story a week ago and takes to Haaretz’s op-ed page Monday to flog Mandelblit over what he terms cowardice. While Drucker tried hard to praise Mandelblit as an attorney general who isn’t Netanyahu’s lapdog, he still accuses him of, well, not exactly treating the case fairly, though he doesn’t think that’s Mandelblit’s fault for being put in this situation.
“There is no suspicion that he is giving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a break because he was promised something. That’s not the story. The story is that it’s almost inhuman to expect someone who had Netanyahu as his boss, Ari Harow as a colleague in the Prime Minister’s Office and David Shimron as a co-worker to treat them the same way he treats everyone else,” he writes.
Meanwhile, the paper’s Amos Harel is ready to move on from Shimron to possibly bigger fish — Shimron’s partner and another lawyer close to Netanyahu who does deal with state security matters and who could be involved in an even bigger conflict of interest — Isaac Molho.
“While one senior partner is working on the submarine deal, which depends on the prime minister’s decision and the expert opinion of the National Security Council, the other senior partner is being sent on secret missions by Netanyahu, missions he sometimes embarks on accompanied by senior security officials, including members of the National Security Council,” he writes. “A Great Wall of China was needed here, and another Great Wall next to it: between Shimron as Ganor’s representative and Shimron’s work as Netanyahu’s attorney (and Netanyahu himself), and between Shimron and his partner Molho, who also deals with sensitive security and diplomatic matters. That is probably not what happened all the way along.”
Harel also takes note of the fact that this scandal is putting Netanyahu and his National Security Council under pressure and putting them on the defensive against the media. Yet the media has continued to report on them, even if they are under verbal attack from Netanyahu.
The complaints of a crampdown on media freedom here probably look like child’s play to journalists in Turkey, where prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has no compunction about brutally silencing dissent.
Yedioth features a column by Can Dundar, a former editor of opposition paper Cumhurriyet who found out just how brutal it can be when he was forced out, jailed on trumped up terror charges and exiled to Germany.
Dundar’s column, devoted to slamming Europe (and maybe Israel) for getting in bed with Erdogan, also shows just how bad it can get when someone with too much power targets the media.
“In Turkey, there are some 150 media people in jail today. That’s more than Egypt, China and Iran combined. A hundred and twenty-four news outlets have been closed since the coup attempt against Erdogan on July 15, and 2,300 journalists have found themselves out of work. Turkey has turned into a the biggest prison for journalists under the emergency laws in place in the country – and Europe is largely responsible for this,” he writes.
Of course, Erdogan might not have a Sheldon Adelson at his side as does Netanyahu, who can always count on Israel Hayom to have his back, Pravda style. Thus, the tabloid’s op-ed page comes complete with a column praising Netanyahu for breaking David Ben-Gurion’s record as the longest-serving prime minister in Israel’s history, and predicting even more glories to come.
“Israel’s citizens have proven decidedly that they have faith in the prime minister and no faith in the media enslaved to its own whims, and often the interests of the publishers. Anyone who doesn’t live in the small and alienated bubble knows that the State of Israel is today a world power in diplomacy, security, economy, technology, academia and everything else,” an acid-penned Haim Shine writes. “Netanyahu has ensured many more years of right-wing rule. The leftist vision has collapsed and doesn’t have even a rock for a tombstone. The prime minister’s political enemies understand that well and are eagerly adopting rightist attitudes.”