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Shir Hever discusses Netanyahu’s indictment for bribery, malfeasance in office and breach of public trust, as only a fraction of his crimes, his refusal to resign & his attack against the left & the media

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Welcome the Real News Network. I’m Mark Steiner. It’s great to have you all with us. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been indicted on three counts bribery fraud and we should trust by Avichai Mandelblit who is the attorney general who was once seen as a political ally of the prime ministers. The charges were brought against him this week and Israel seems sharply divided over these indictments. With half the population seemingly for them half against depending on which poll you read the prime minister and his allies blame it on the left and the media. Others worried about the deep shift to the right. This could have happened because of the Netanyahu no longer being in office. If that in fact takes place and we are joined by real news correspondent Scheer however who covers this off of real news obviously and is author of that privatization of Israeli security. Sure. Great to talk to you again.

SHIR HEVER: Thanks for having me, Marc.

MARC STEINER: So let’s talk about this here. So what are we missing here in this? We clearly see this indictment is taking place. There are a lot of questions that I think I have and the viewers have about we’re missing.

SHIR HEVER: I think what we’re missing is everything that he wasn’t indicted for. And that’s the bigger story. And you mentioned in the intro that Avichai Mandelbilt was Netanyahu’s former political ally. No, no, no. He is still his close ally and friend.

MARC STEINER: Then why did he indict him? Why did he participate-

SHIR HEVER: He had no choice. In fact, the state attorney office, everyone in that office, were very much taken by surprise by this indictment, because they expected something else entirely. First of all, this indictment should have taken place years ago. It took three years for Mandelblit just to issue the indictment after the evidence was very clear and made public many years ago. And some of the crimes that are mentioned in this indictment started in 2006. So now, that he’s just making that indictment now, is really as late as he could possibly postpone it.

Second of all, the list of crimes is a much shorter list than what was expected. If we look at one of these cases, the case that is known as 2000, where Netanyahu has met with the head of one of Israel’s biggest media empires and agreed with him to help him sell more newspapers in exchange for getting better coverage in the newspapers. And then Mendelbilt decided to indict the head of the media empire in the charge of bribery. So he says bribery has allegedly taken place. But Netanyahu is only charged with malfeasance. So he has accepted the bribe, but it doesn’t count as bribery, but rather a smaller charge.

MARC STEINER: So let me ask you a question about that particular indictment, because I was very curious about this when I read through it. So the newspaper they’re taking on in this indictment, the other newspaper, is owned by Sheldon adelson, who is a huge ally of Netanyahu. So what was that game about?

SHIR HEVER: Well, Netanyahu is claiming to his defense that he was trying to trick and entrap Noni Moses, the owner of Yediot Aharonot, the other newspaper. Noni Moses is claiming the exact same thing. He’s saying “I was trying to entrap Netanyahu.”.

This is a very flimsy defense on both sides. And there’s a recording of the conversation–if you listen to that recording, it’s unbelievable–where Noni Moses is telling Netanyahu, you can legislate to stop Adelson’s newspaper in order to put me again on the number one place. And Netanyahu tells him “Well, I have to talk to the ginger head first,” and he refers to Adelson by that. But you can already start turning the ship around. Meaning you can already start changing the coverage.

But I really have to say something very important. When I say what is not included in this indictment, the most important issue, in my personal opinion, is that the crimes of theft, bribery, malfeasance, fraud, these are minor crimes compared to the crime of killing, to war crimes, to confiscating private land from people, from using live ammunition against protesters, and from bombarding civilian neighborhoods. This is the real crime for which Netanyahu is responsible, and for which he needs to face trial. But of course the Israeli legal system is absolutely not going to put him on trial for these things.

MARC STEINER: So I think what you’re saying now, all these political issues, is really critical. But as you said, they were never part of any consideration of indictments when it came to Netanyahu.

SHIR HEVER: Absolutely. The Israeli legal system does not consider killing Palestinian civilians to be a crime. This is something that, unfortunately, has to be said. It boggles the mind that this is the reality.

There’s another issue that was actually mentioned many times, exposed by the Israeli media, which is a divertment of money, of about $4 billion, from the Israeli defense budget to buying unnecessary submarines from a German company, because there was bribery involved. And this bribery involved Netanyahu’s lawyer, Netanyahu’s cousin, Netanyahu’s close friend. Nevertheless, Avichai Mandelbilt said from day one “I’m not even going to interrogate Netanyahu on this. I’m not going to investigate whether he is involved or not.” And that decision to just exclude Netanyahu from that massive corruption scandal, maybe the biggest in the history of Israel, actually shows that Mandelblit really chose to choose the easiest and smallest and most minor charges. And I think that shows that he remains a good friend of Netanyahu.

Two more things I need to mention in this context. First of all, Netanyahu’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, has been completely left off of all these indictments, even though she has been involved in some of these alleged crimes, and received gifts which would count as bribery, and so on. And second is the fact that Mandelblit wrote this indictment in the second person. And I’ve never seen a legal document like that in the Israeli legal system. And I find it bordering on bizarre. Instead of writing “The suspect has allegedly committed this and that crime,” he’s saying “You have allegedly committed this and that crime.” He’s having a private conversation with Netanyahu. In the last two years, Mandelbilt and Netanyahu met 104 times without witnesses and without a recording.

So the man who’s supposed to investigate and charge Netanyahu of crimes, his close friend, are meeting behind closed doors and planning exactly what is going to happen next to make sure that Netanyahu has a way out.

MARC STEINER: Let me ask you a series of very quick questions here in the time that we have left. So if what you–the way you describe the situation between the Attorney General and the Prime Minister Netanyahu, what does that mean for the case against him? Will there be an active case against him? Will Netanyahu have to go to court? Is there a chance he could be convicted? Will he be forced to resign because of this? Or is this part of the game to make it appear as if something is going to happen, and nothing will happen?

SHIR HEVER: I think that Mandelbilt did everything he can to give Netanyahu a way out. But he can–there’s only so much that he can do. And I think that Netanyahu is a brilliant manipulator. He understands public sentiment better than most leaders around the world. And I think many people are learning from him, like Trump, and Bolsonaro, and a lot of other leaders around the world who are investigated for possible corruption charges or learning from Netanyahu how to behave.

But what Mandelblit actually said is that all of these charges are pending a hearing. And the hearing will only happen after the elections. So Netanyahu is hoping to win the elections by a landslide. And he probably will. He has very good chances to win the elections by a landslide. And then say “Well, the people the people have already exonerated me. In the eyes of the people, I’m innocent.” And then maybe cut a deal to get the charges dropped against him.

But even though that was the way that it was phrased in the indictment, the Israeli media and the Israeli law enforcement agencies, they see it quite differently. They realize that this is not something that can just be brushed aside and ignored. So it is possible they’re going to let him drop all the charges in exchange for Netanyahu stepping down from office. That is one of the possibilities that many pundits and speculators are promoting. But just letting him ignore the whole thing and continue as the prime minister, well, that may work in places like Turkey, or Hungary. But it doesn’t work in Israel, because Israel is a colonialist society, and the public are have been socialized and educated to believe that they are masters of their own destiny, and of their own land, and society. They will not accept this kind of meekness of of being the footsoldiers for Netanyahu, and to accept the fact that he can steal their money and get away with it.

MARC STEINER: Two other very quick questions here, because we’re running out of time with on this. But I want to–one of the polls that came out of the Israeli Times the other day showed that the center-left party of Gantz, the former general, with 44 seats to 25 for Likud, which is Netanyahu’s party, does that mean momentum has picked up for the center left, or how would you describe them in this election because of this indictment? Netanyahu Is in danger of losing? Because you just said the opposite.

SHIR HEVER: Yeah. Well, I’ve seen about 20 polls in the last couple of weeks, and all of these polls painted a completely different picture, in which Netanyahu is winning by a very large majority. And it’s not just a question of these two party sizes, but also what are the other parties which can form a coalition? And I also think that this so-called opposition party by Gantz is, in fact, already preparing to sit in the coalition with Netanyahu as junior partners-

MARC STEINER: But I thought Gantz said he would not sit with Netanyahu if he won, because of the indictments.

SHIR HEVER: Well, unlike other Israeli politicians, they have avoided the question “Will you refuse to sit with him?” and maybe said something like, well, he should resign, he should step down. But if it comes out that he wins the election, will you sit down with him in the same cabinet? When that question was posed to them by journalists, they said let’s change the subject. So I think that shows that they understand the intricacies of this issue a bit differently. And in fact, this one poll which was published by Israel Today is the outlier. And I find it very surprising, actually, because everyone in Israel knows that Netanyahu was going to be indicted. That was not a surprise. If anything, the surprise was how weak the indictment was.

So I don’t think it’s because the indictment suddenly 10 seats in the polls have moved into another party. Absolutely not. I think what is happening is that Netanyahu is manipulating public opinion in order to present himself as the underdog being persecuted by the so-called left, even though there is no left–there is a very, very small left movement in Israel–in order to get popular support and win the election with a big majority,

MARC STEINER: So, finally, one of the things that comes out of these indictments is that there’s, and in this campaign for the next Israeli election, is that Netanyahu is moving even further right in terms of the coalition he’s building, with a very far-right racist party, which we can talk about just briefly, to describe that for the viewers. And that some people have written in 972 and other places that this election could prove, and even could make it even worse for Palestinians than any election before, especially in a post-Netanyahu era. So how would you comment on those things, as we close?

SHIR HEVER: Yeah. Very briefly, I’ll say Netanyahu’s rhetoric and language is very right wing, very racist. Absolutely. And also this party that he’s courting from the outside, which is a party in the very, very far right. However, we have to distinguish between actions and talk. And the so-called left opposition to Netanyahu, this [Gantz and Lapid] party, they are saying don’t judge us by our statements about Palestinians, judge us by how many Palestinians we kill. And I think that’s where the difference is. Netanyahu is big on talk, and he likes to delegitimize people and Palestinians, to call everyone who doesn’t agree with him a lefty, as if it was a curse word. But when it comes to actions he is not as bad as the people who are supposedly to his left.

MARC STEINER: Well, Shir Hever, it’s always great to talk to you, and I appreciate you taking the time. And that’s Shir Hever, correspondent for The Real News Network. And I’m Marc Steiner for The Real News. Thank you all for joining us. Take care.

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Dr. Shir Hever grew up in Israel and now lives in Germany. He has been reporting on Israel/Palestine stories for 16 years, and for the Real News specifically since 2016. He’s the author of two books and many articles, and is a committed member of several Palestine solidarity groups.