Israel graft case turns spotlight on Netanyahu family

February 16, 2018 11:22 am
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Sara and Benjamin Netanyahu pose at the Taj Mahal in Agra on January 16, 2018, during a visit to India/AFP-File 

, JERUSALEM, Israel, Feb 16 – Israeli police accusations this week against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu involving fancy cigars, champagne and jewellery have revived older stories of alleged misbehaviour by the premier and some family members.

The accusations were the most serious against Netanyahu during his long tenure in power, but they follow a series of stories about him and his family that have captured public attention.

To name a few: the family dog biting a lawmaker, allegations that the premier’s wife falsified housekeeping expenses and the broadcast of a recording of their eldest son drunk outside a strip club.

Netanyahu, who has repeatedly proclaimed his innocence, says the attention paid to his family has been grossly unfair and calls many of the stories obvious attempts to discredit him.

Tamar Hermann, an expert on public opinion at the Israel Democracy Institute think tank, said Netanyahu supporters would certainly agree.

But for others, she said, “it’s like having a neighbour whose domestic scene makes you look at it and say, ‘God forbid! I hope it won’t infect my home.'”

In recommending that Netanyahu be indicted, police said he and “members of his household” were given cigars, champagne and jewellery worth about one million shekels (229,000 euros, $283,000) by Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer.

‘Expensive jewellery’

Netanyahu is alleged to have tried to help Milchan in return, including by promoting his business interests in Israel.

While the police document recommended that Netanyahu be charged with bribery, fraud and breach of public trust, it made no mention by name of his wife Sara or their son Yair, who also live in the heavily guarded official residence in central Jerusalem.

But dozens of reports since police first interrogated the prime minister in January 2017 state that Sara Netanyahu was aware of certain gifts, with some allegedly delivered at her request.

A picture from March 18, 2015, shows Netanyahu with his son Yair/AFP-File 

Haaretz daily referred to “an expensive piece of jewellery requested by Sara Netanyahu as a birthday gift” from Milchan and said Packer gave Yair free air tickets and paid for hotel rooms.

Yair Netanyahu is one of Netanyahu’s three children from three marriages.

He has a daughter, Noa, from first wife Miriam and a younger son, Avner, with Sara.

In a separate case, Sara Netanyahu also faces a possible trial over alleged misuse of public funds, which she denies.

The allegations announced last year are that she and an aide falsely declared there were no cooks available at the prime minister’s official residence and they ordered from outside caterers at public expense.

The cost amounted to 359,000 shekels, the justice ministry said in a statement in September.

Regular target

A former butler has also accused her of pocketing cash from deposit refunds for empty bottles returned from the official residence between 2009 and 2013, money that should have gone to the treasury.

In 2013, Netanyahu reimbursed the state $1,000 but the butler has said the figure should have been six times higher.

In February 2016, a court awarded 170,000 shekels in damages to a former housekeeper who accused the couple of repeated workplace abuse.

The Netanyahus have dismissed the allegations, widely circulated in local media, as a smear campaign.

Yair Netanyahu, 26, is a regular target of the family’s critics as a grown man living in the premier’s residence despite having no official role.

Last August, left-wing think tank Molad published “Five things you didn’t know about heir to the throne Yair Netanyahu”, slamming his lifestyle, particularly the cost to the taxpayer of his round-the-clock protection and government car with driver.

That perk backfired last month when a driver’s recording of Yair outside a strip club drunkenly boasting to a friend about his father’s role in a natural gas deal by his government was widely broadcast.

Yair is heard speaking with the son of Kobi Maimon, a stakeholder in a company that owns a share in Israel’s offshore Tamar gas field.

‘Strippergate’

“My dad arranged $20 billion for your dad you can give me 400 shekels,” he says.

The audio clip also includes talk of strippers, leading Haaretz to dub the affair “Strippergate”.

Yair said he was joking in the audio, said to be from 2015, and acknowledged he had been “under the influence of alcohol”.

It was not the first time he drew media fire.

In September, Yair raised eyebrows with a bizarre Facebook post suggesting there was a conspiracy against his family. The post included a series of anti-Semitic images.

Before that there was what the Jerusalem Post called “Dog poop-gate” in which a neighbour of the Netanyahus complained that she had seen Yair walking the family mixed-breed dog Kaiya and failing to bag its leavings.

She wrote on Facebook that when she challenged Netanyahu to clean up after the animal, he made an obscene gesture with his middle finger.

Yair then posted emojis showing a pile of dung and the finger gesture.

Kaiya, adopted from a shelter, first made headlines of her own in 2015 when she bit an Israeli lawmaker and the husband of a cabinet minister during a reception at the Netanyahu residence.

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