As watchdog barks at Netanyahu, some see toothlessness

Let’s say you are a mouthpiece dressed up as a newspaper, and the news of the day — the affair you absolutely cannot avoid without giving up any last pretension you have of being a news organization — would mean scuffing up the man you are beholden to.

If you are Israel Hayom, you make like a dreidel and spin your little heart out like you’ve never spun before. Thus, as news reverberates over a report that found Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had improperly financed trips abroad, the front page of the tabloid is dressed up with a headline (not even the lead story) with nanny-nanny boo-booish gloating that the report didn’t go far enough to take down your fearless leader. You write the headline: “Disappointment in the left, the report won’t fell Netanyahu.”

The other two newspapers, which range from apathy to open disdain for the prime minister, have no such problem, and can thank the state comptroller for releasing a report that raises suspicions of criminal activity regarding money the Netanyahus received for flights abroad, known as Bibi Tours since the scandal was first uncovered by journalist Raviv Drucker some five years ago.

Yet the thanks end there, as the papers sharpen their quills against the state comptroller and attorney general for seeing to it that the report was not too severe.

Still calling the report “sharp,” Yedioth Ahronoth uses its tabloid license to run such headlines as “On the wings of money” and “The Netanyahu method,” as it quotes liberally from the report which found that Netanyahu had businessmen and others pay for his and his wife Sara’s flights abroad when he served as finance minister over a decade ago, above a front page illustration of Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu looking out of plane windows and looking as happy as all the clams they took against regulations.

“Netanyahu and his lawyers waged a tough war to kill the publication of the original draft of the report, and managed to soften it. Yet still, the final version published yesterday is very severe, and raises suspicions of criminality in the area of integrity and was passed along to be checked by the attorney general,” Yedioth reports.

In Haaretz, investigative reporter Gidi Weitz takes readers through the long and winding road of the final release of the report, calling it the “discordant final note after five years of procrastination,” which he says involved years of negotiations and attempts by the state comptroller and attorney general not to butt heads with the prime minister.

“The attorney general killed the case in the manner that characterized all his activities,” a legal expert is quoted telling the paper. “He postponed meetings, scheduled them months apart, dealt with the case sluggishly in order to deprive it of oxygen.”

“The two guardians of the law played an embarrassing game of ping pong just to avoid directly confronting the man to whom they owed their jobs. It led to an unprecedented result: The publication of the report after a delay of almost four years,” Weitz adds.

Weitz’s criticism is a gentle chiding compared to the obloquy leveled by Yedioth’s Sima Kadmon against those who released the report and those who did everything they could to keep it from being too harsh.

“There’s no need to say who they are, those who worked harder at softening and whitewashing that at their jobs as public servants, which is to bring the truth to light,” she writes. “The general assumption last night was that despite the harsh findings and the promises of the current attorney general to work professionally and fairly – this won’t come to a criminal investigation, and the Bibi Tours affair will end with another report that will leave the decision in the hands of the voter.

“Professionally and fairly? Nu, really now. For a while we’ve stopped expecting that from anyone appointed by the prime minister (and his wife). Today, one can say with confidence that the most dominant characteristic of outgoing attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein, that characterized all his years in office, was the ability to delay, to play down and to bury anything, even if it still had a heartbeat.”

For an idea of what burying a report like this means, one need look no further than Israel Hayom, which includes little coverage of what is in the report and instead just slaps together quotes from Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit saying he’s going to look into it, and from Netanyahu lawyer David Shimron, who is given the lion’s share of the story to defend his clients.

“The feeling is that there is one law for Netanyahu, and one law for everyone else,” he’s quoted saying after giving a lengthy explanation of how the rules in place today for ministers’ travel didn’t exist when Netanyahu was finance minister.

Taking the defense of Netanyahu to the next level, columnist Haim Shine makes like a kid who wins by cheating and then taunts the losers about how much they suck at the game, taking up his pen against all those disappointed that the report was softened.

“How easy it is to discredit the attorney general for saying that there’s nothing to investigate, when his only sin was not working for the media,” he writes, before launching into a diatribe whose bottom line is that even if Netanyahu did break a few regulations, it’s cool because the left is out to get him and everybody does it.

“To deal with the right-wing regime led by Netanyahu, the left and its representatives in the media grasp onto any straw. Suddenly they discover a few of the prime minister’s flights for important organizations, for the betterment of Israel and the Jewish community, were paid for privately. As if Netanyahu is expected to know who donates to every organization for flights,” he writes. “I’ve never heard a bad word about moral and pure Knesset members who fly to appear at the Saban Forum, accusing them of serving the private interests of Haim Saban after being wined and dined. For them it’s allowed, but for others it’s suspicions of graft. I don’t remember analysts and broadcasters, invited to take part in events paid for by private sponsors, recusing themselves from covering those same donors in the media. If they gave out a Nobel Prize for cynicism, these pure ones would win it without a doubt.”