Israel Pulse

Netanyahu's 'family values'

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Article Summary
The recent scandal involving Yair Netanyahu, son of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, renews questions about the Israeli leader's handling of a lucrative natural gas deal.

“My dad arranged $20 billion for your dad, and you’re whining with me about 400 shekels [$115]?” This statement — uttered several times by Yair Netanyahu, son of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an explosive recording — has shaken Israel. The release of the recording Jan. 8 was the last thing Netanyahu needed at this point in time. The police are completing two of the criminal investigations of the prime minister and his cronies, and the public debate about Netanyahu’s ability to continue to conduct affairs of state is heating up. Such is the backdrop to the release of the audio recording by Channel 2, Israel’s highest-rated news outlet.

At the center of the story stands the prime minister’s controversial 26-year-old son. Two of his friends are also involved, one of them being Nir Maimon, son of Kobi Maimon, a mysterious Israeli tycoon who keeps his distance from the media and owns part of one of the large offshore Tamar natural gas fields.

The junior Netanyahu and his friends were recorded in 2015 while being driven from one strip club to another on a wild, hedonistic excursion full of obscenities and gutter talk on a Friday night in Tel Aviv. The recording touched on everything: sex, alcohol, prostitutes, money, objectification of women and more. The airing of the conversation has forced Netanyahu and his son to apologize numerous times.

“These are not the values on which he was raised at home,” Netanyahu said Jan. 9. “He did it under the influence of alcohol.” Regardless, alcohol is the last thing Netanyahu has to worry about now.

The recording has explosive potential for anything related to the natural gas outline for distributing resources and benefits between the state and investors agreed to some two years ago. Netanyahu practically killed himself getting it approved by the government and the Knesset. The recording, a true work of the devil, was taped at that time, during which Netanyahu devoted every effort in overcoming unprecedented public and political criticism of the gas deal. Critics claimed that the deal served to benefit tycoons and shareholders while dispossessing the state and Israeli citizens of natural resources that belonged to them.

Now it turns out that the prime minister’s son, viewed as having great influence over his father, was a personal, intimate friend of the son of one of the gas tycoons who stood to greatly benefit. The airing of Yair Netanyahu's conversation has resurrected the issue, and the public storm above Benjamin Netanyahu’s head may well lead to an additional criminal investigation.

One of the questions the recording raises is why Netanyahu failed to exhibit “due disclosure” and make public the strong friendship between his son and the son of one of the key tycoons involved in the gas deal? Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, a personal childhood friend of Kobi Maimon, issued such a disclosure. Not Netanyahu.

Now the prime minister is forced to say, yet again, “I didn’t know,” which is also what he said about his lawyer and cousin David Shimron representing ThyssenKrupp at a time when Netanyahu himself was promoting a billion-dollar deal to acquire submarines from the German company. Then there was the time that Netanyahu “didn’t know” that Shlomo Filber, director general of the Communications Ministry and a confidant whom he personally appointed, was showering hundreds of millions of shekels worth of benefits on Bezeq, a giant communications and media company owned by another Netanyahu friend, Shaul Elovitch. All this happened while Netanyahu was also serving as communications minister.

The “I didn’t know” theme has repeated itself too many times in the investigations into Netanyahu. If he did know, he is a criminal, and if he really didn’t know, then his management skills are extremely dubious.

Beyond the gas affair, the recording itself is inflaming the Israeli public mainly due to the foul-mouthed talk objectifying women, all from the son of the prime minister. As noted, Yair Netanyahu is regarded as someone with great influence over his father. When US President Barack Obama visited Israel in 2013, Netanyahu boasted about his son, telling the president, “He was one of my most important advisers in the [election] campaign.”

The junior Netanyahu is widely believed to make political decisions and determine media policy and messaging for his father. He has also gained a well-deserved reputation for boorish behavior, foul language and problematic manners. Now, the Israeli public has glimpsed it all in one conversation, which is burning up the networks. All the prime minister’s previous denials regarding the misdeeds of “the boy” are going up in flames.

Among the other people in the car in which the conversation was recorded were Yair Netanyahu’s personal security guard and the driver transporting him to the strip clubs and alcohol dens of Tel Aviv. The recording was made public amid a scathing public debate over whether the state should underwrite a security detail, a car and a driver for the prime minister’s adult young son, who neither studies nor works.

The Netanyahu family believes the driver taped the conversation, which is in principle permitted in Israel, and sold it for revenge against “junior.” Even if true, it doesn’t really matter. Former Shin Bet Director Yoram Cohen told Army Radio in a Jan. 4 interview that the agency does not recommend providing permanent bodyguards for the prime minister’s two sons. Rather, the decision to underwrite the around-the-clock, around-the-world security for them was adopted by a professional committee against Shin Bet’s recommendation. Now the world knows where and how the young Netanyahu drags his unfortunate bodyguards and drivers until the break of dawn.

If that weren't enough, Yair Netanyahu's gutter language is arousing horror and revulsion in everyone who listens to the recording. After the comment, “My dad arranged $20 billion for your dad,” Yair Netanyahu berates his friend for not paying for one of his strippers. He offers his former girlfriend to “the fellows” as payment. “That’s how I’ll be able to cover my debts,” he joked. The friends repeatedly talk about women as if they were chattel and about how to “lure” a waitress who “turned them on” at one of their stops, descending into the dregs of vulgarity, callousness and chauvinism.

When the recording landed on the Netanyahu family, their initial knee-jerk reaction was to accuse the news media of persecution and dismiss the whole episode with ridicule. By the next day, the prime minister had regained his composure and apologized, in his own name and in the name of his son. “These are not the values on which he was raised at home,” he declared. Few people believe such a statement today.

Ben Caspit is a columnist for Al-Monitor's Israel Pulse. He is also a senior columnist and political analyst for Israeli newspapers and has a daily radio show and regular TV shows on politics and Israel. On Twitter: @BenCaspit

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