Israel's Trump: How Corruption Charges Against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Could Be A Harbinger of Things to Come

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Israel's Trump: How Corruption Charges Against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Could Be A Harbinger of Things to Come

We’re not hearing all that much about the corruption cases rocking the top of Israel’s government, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. I suppose we’re full up with the wide-ranging criminal investigation of our President. It’s a shame, too, because the cases against Netanyahu (there are four of them) are bonkers.

They are also uncannily similar to the legal problems facing our own head-of-state:

Multiple allegations of fraud and graft, some involving well-known billionaires
Accepting illegal gifts and donations while head-of-state
Colluding with a media conglomerate to get positive coverage and to attack political opponents
Prosecutors have flipped multiple people in his inner circle, turning some into witnesses for the state
His son has also been targeted in a political case
Netanyahu calls the investigations a “witch hunt,” and he calls reporting that incriminates him “fake news”
Right-wing leveraging collusion within the justice system to dismiss the case outright

In contrast to Trump, though, prosecutors have interviewed Netanyahu seven times. They’ve also already recommended charges against Bibi in two of the four cases. This means we might have a glimpse of the future that awaits Trump, his administration, and his family.

Here’s a simple breakdown of what’s going on in Israel.

First, Who Is Benjamin Netanyahu?

Skip this if you don’t need the background, but quickly:

Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu is Israel’s Prime Minister. He’s been in power on and off since the mid-nineties, and this is his fourth term. Politically, he’s hard to the right—a Zionist who seems intractable in peace negotiations with the Palestinians. Netanyahu leads the right-wing Likud party and famously didn’t get along with President Barack Obama, especially when it came to the Iran nuclear deal, which he opposed.

He loves Donald Trump.

The Investigations

They’re known as Cases 1000 – 4000.

Case 1000: Israeli law enforcement recommended the state charge Bibi and his wife Sara for not handing over to the government an array of gifts they’d received from billionaires in exchange for political favors. The gifts included hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of champagne, cigars, and other luxuries. One quid allegedly exchanged for those quos was a U.S. visa.

This is one of the cases where Israeli law enforcement has already charged Netanyahu—with bribery in this instance. Bibi admits he received the gifts, but he denies they were bribes.

Case 2000: Netanyahu allegedly made a deal with an Israeli publisher to get favorable coverage in exchange for stricter regulations on a competing publication. This recalls the Trump administration’s efforts to meddle in political media by blocking AT&T’s proposed merger with Time Warner, the parent company of Trump’s favorite media target, CNN. The DOJ has claimed the government’s case isn’t politically motivated.

The police have also charged Netanyahu in this case. Again, Bibi says nothing illegal went down, but in that case, lordy, there are tapes.

Case 3000: This is the only investigation not yet explicitly pointing to Netanyahu (Again: Not yet.)

Case 3000 alleges high-level government corruption in the purchase of German-made nuclear submarines. Though Netanyahu hasn’t been officially named, his personal lawyer represented the government official alleged to have made the bribe. It was also a major arms deal, so it’s unrealistic to assume the prime minister wasn’t in the loop. He’ll probably at least be implicated in the proceedings, if not named outright.

Case 4000: This is another corrupt deal between the Netanyahu government and a media conglomerate called Bezeq. In that deal the conglomerate would give Netanyahu favorable coverage in exchange for legislation favorable to Bezeq. Some of that coverage included attacks on Netanyahu’s rivals. An official in the case has called favorable coverage “too gentle a term.”

No Kidding: Text messages Have Incriminated the Justice System

The judge and a prosecutor in Case 4000 allegedly exchanged texts to coordinate their efforts. Netanyahu and his right-wing supporters argue the case should be shut down. Politicians on the left say the government should address the scandal separately and not throw out the case.

All of this stunningly similar to the text “”scandal in the Trump-Russia investigation.

What’s Next?

Netanyahu’s allies argue he shouldn’t leave office even if he’s charged, and he’s said as much himself. Despite the stonewalling, though, it seems increasingly likely the government will indict him. After all, there are tapes. The looming question: What goes down next?

Whatever it is, it won’t be quick. The indictment process for Netanyahu seems similar to what would happen to Trump in the United States: Prosecutors can recommend the government press charges, but it’s up to the attorney general to pursue them. (In the Trump case, Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein would make that call, because Jeff Sessions recused himself from all matters related to the Russia investigation.) In both countries these processes would take several months.

Further mucking it up, even if Bibi were indicted, he’s not legally required to resign. It’s not impossible to imagine that he’d follow through on his promise to stay in power, but political pressure might force his hand: Two-thirds of the country feels Netanyahu should resign if the state brings charges, and—again like Trump—support from within his own personal circle seems to have privately frayed.

Even worse for the prime minister, if he decided to stay in power (or make the attempt) he’d be going against precedent: In 2009, prime minister Ehud Ohmert resigned in the face of a corruption scandal. In that case, though, Ohmert resigned before he was even indicted. He eventually went to prison, and his successor lost the next election (To Netanyahu, turns out.)

Also, Bibi doesn’t have an obvious successor, and the next elections are more than 18 months away. It’s not yet clear what it would mean for the possible defibrillation of peace talks with Palestine, which fell apart in 2014, but it doesn’t look good. It’s also worth noting that these scandals have diluted the media coverage of perhaps Bibi’s biggest political achievement: The recently announced movement of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and Trump’s recognition of the new capital.

What’s more, even if Bibi manages to hold on, legal troubles will still hound him: His wife Sara is under investigation for financial crimes and his son just got sued. He’s survived corruption charges before: Three years ago he and his wife were alleged to have charged the government for their own private contractor work. Those charges were dropped.

Which leads us to the final parallel, Bibi’s nationally televised, remarkably Trumpian self-own: “Over the years, I have been the subject of at least 15 enquiries and investigations.”

He’ll be fine.