Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have a few things in common. Both are quite wealthy, though neither is in the top 30 wealthiest people in their nation. Donald Trump is 259th in the U.S., according to Forbes. They both seem to be attracted to more autocratic leaders, and they have been friends with each other for many years. They both had an immense dislike of President Barack Obama. They are both bigots, both despise Iran and want to end or severely limit immigration in their respective countries. Both have a mainly right-wing following. They also have one other thing in common: they are both under investigation by their own government. Mr. Netanyahu is about to be indicted on charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust, whereas Mr. Trump is under investigation for a number of as-yet unspecified charges likely to include corruption, bribery, influencing an election, and obstruction of justice.
Yesterday, Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced his plans to indict Netanyahu. Conversely, it is highly unlikely that Trump will be indicted any time soon. While there is absolutely nothing in the U.S. Constitution that prohibits indicting a sitting president, past justice department guidance has held that a sitting president may not be indicted for a crime, and that precedent is likely to either continue or set off legal battles that will last long past the end of Trump’s reign of terror.
Netanyahu is just 40 days from the election that will decide if he sees a 4th consecutive term as Prime Minister. The charges against him stem in part from trading lucrative official favors for gifts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars including cigars, Champagne and jewelry, and for flattering news coverage whose value was incalculable.
The news coverage of the investigation into Netanyahu’s corruption and abuse of power have had little effect on his approval ratings, just as the mounting evidence of Trump’s alleged crimes have had little effect on his own approval ratings. I don’t understand this, for always in the past, a president or Prime Minister was expected to behave in the most circumspect of manners, and if they failed to do so, they were held accountable. Did it suddenly become ‘okay’ to be a crook, an abuser of women, a liar and a cheat? I guess I didn’t get that memo.
I’m not sure which of the two coined the phrase first, but just as Trump calls the Robert Mueller investigation a “witch hunt”, so has Netanyahu referred to the investigation into his affairs as a “witch hunt”. One of them is a copycat. As Netanyahu’s indictment began to look more and more like a certainty, as the evidence began to pile up, he became more strident and divisive, even alienating some of his own supporters. Sound familiar?
There’s another Trump/Netanyahu connection. In one of the charges, Netanyahu stands accused of discussing with the publisher of Yediot Ahronot, one of Israel’s biggest newspapers, the possibility of a deal for favorable coverage: He would press a competing newspaper, Israel Hayom, to curtail its free circulation, and in return Yediot Ahronot would treat Mr. Netanyahu kindlier. Israel Hayom is owned by Sheldon Adelson, the American billionaire casino owner who is a devoted supporter of Mr. Netanyahu’s. Mr. Adelson was also a mega-donor to the Trump campaign in 2016, and as a reward, his wife Miriam was awarded (without qualifications or justification) the Presidential Medal of Freedom last November. Wow … these rich dudes are thicker than thieves, aren’t they? Oh wait … they are thieves!
In another of the charges, Netanyahu is accused of pushing regulatory actions through the Communications Ministry, which he controlled at the time, that were enormously lucrative to Shaul Elovitch, the principal owner of the Bezeq telecommunications giant. In return, Mr. Elovitch arranged for fawning coverage of Mr. Netanyahu and his family in Walla News, a popular website owned by Bezeq. Trump has Fox News, Netanyahu has Walla News.
If the indictment is handed down, as AG Mandelblit intends, it will be the first time a sitting prime minister has been indicted in Israel, just as it would be the first time a sitting president was indicted in the U.S. if Attorney General Barr were to suddenly find the cojones to do so. The point in all of this? Both men are already independently wealthy, yet it wasn’t enough. They broke laws, abused the power of their office, and breached the trust of the very people who put them in office. In addition, each have the distinction of having made the world a little less safe and a lot less sane. Thanks guys.