Who’s next?

Netanyahu: not the first Israeli PM to be investigated for corruption

The attack on supporters of Palestinian rights and opponents of Israel’s war crimes has been so relentless that the targets can be forgiven a feeling of glee when the attackers themselves face difficulties, notes Ariel Pardes. That this has happened repeatedly in the past couple of weeks is a source of further pleasure.

The first Israel supporter to make a fool of themselves was Dan Fox, the former director of Labour Friends of Israel. Fox, the partner of Labour right-wing MP Stella Creasy, was engaged in Twitter banter with his pal Dave Rich, a director of the Community Security Trust and one of the main drivers behind the “Labour antisemitism” campaign. Following a reference to Jackie Walker, the black Jewish activist who has been hounded by Israel’s supporters, Fox tweeted the stunningly racist comment “Jackie Walker – so thick, if you tried to drink her through a straw, your ears would bleed”.

For the past two years, we have seen a ceaseless stream of attacks based on detailed analysis of every word and comma of our own comments in an attempt to discover and expose “antisemitic tropes”. But somehow, supporters of Israel are exempt from this scrutiny. After Jackie Walker published Fox’s tweet on Facebook, she received a barrage of responses explaining why this was not racist abuse, but merely legitimate political commentary. Jackie also wrote privately to Stella Creasy, noting that she had quite rightly been outspoken in her condemnation of the online abuse directed towards women in public life, and asking for her comments on this abuse by her own partner. Unsurprisingly, Creasy did not respond directly, though Fox deleted his original tweet. There has been no apology for this abuse, but Labour Party members have pointed out that Fox’s comment is in apparent breach of the Labour Party’s Code of Conduct for social media, which states that “Abusing someone online is just as serious as doing so face to face. We stand against all forms of abuse and will take action against those who commit it”.

Within days of this, Creasy herself was accused of racism, after she inexplicably posted a highly offensive video on WhatsApp. On a Labour MPs group, Creasy posted a clip from a 1980s Kia Ora advert which has for decades been described as one of the most racist ads ever broadcast. When challenged on this – by, among others, Shadow Equalities Minister Dawn Butler – Creasy apologised, saying that the video was intended as a joke and that she didn’t realise that it was offensive. Many of her constituents who have faced unfounded accusations of antisemitism or misogyny will marvel at this seeming unawareness of and insensitivity towards blatant anti-black racism.

Creasy’s offence was swiftly eclipsed by the scandal engulfing Jewish Labour Movement leader Jeremy Newmark. Newmark is no stranger to controversy. Some years ago, after he gave evidence at an absurd Employment Tribunal in which a lecturer unsuccessfully accused his union, UCU, of antisemitism, Newmark’s testimony was dismissed by the judge as “untrue”, “false”, “preposterous” and “extraordinarily arrogant”. Despite this, following Newmark’s (at the time unexplained) departure from the Jewish Leadership Council, he was appointed head of the JLM.

Rumours of financial malpractice have swirled around Newmark for some time. Last November, the Jewish Chronicle reported that Newmark was being pursued by an Israeli taxi driver for £3000 in unpaid taxi fares dating back several years. After first denying the claim and insisting that he had paid the bills, Newmark eventually promised to pay the driver 2/3 of the sum owed, though it is not clear if this has been paid. This affair, however, fades into relative insignificance in the light of subsequent reports. On 8 February, the JC revealed a 2013 auditors’ report alleging that Newmark had deceived the JLC of tens of thousands of pounds while employed by the organisation. Newmark had claimed thousands of pounds of “inappropriate” personal expenses, had not accounted for thousands of pounds withdrawn on JLC credit and debit cards, had misled charities about the true costs of projects while employing his wife’s company at inflated fees to carry out work for the JLC, and much more.

Despite this damning report, the JLC’s trustees decided to hush up the affair and to allow Newmark to retire, and receive a lump sum payment, on the basis of ill health. The trustees did not report this to the police. Nor, as they were legally bound to, did they notify the Charity Commissioners, of the concerns – a matter that the Commission is now investigating. And nor, apparently, as they were morally if not legally bound to, did they inform other Jewish communal bodies, with the result that Newmark could subsequently be appointed to head the JLM.

The chair of the JLC trustees at the time, and the man ultimately responsible for this cover up, Mick Davies, has since been knighted and appointed chief executive of the Conservative Party. Newmark himself, in addition to his JLM role, was recently elected to Hertsmere Borough Council, where he is currently leader of the Labour group. In the General Election, he was narrowly defeated as Labour candidate in Finchley and Golders Green; had he achieved the same swing as other London Labour candidates, he would probably now be an MP. There can surely be no doubt that his behaviour could be damaging to the Labour Party, and it is astonishing that he was not immediately suspended from membership while the allegations against him were investigated.

But even these revelations have been overshadowed by the rapidly-developing miasma of accusations surrounding Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu. Following years of allegations and investigations, on 13 February the Israeli police recommended the indictment of Netanyahu on two charges of corruption.[1]  Netnyahu is no stranger to corruption. His first period as PM came to an inglorious end in 1999, following earlier police recommendations for corruption charges. In 2013, there was a public storm following the revelation that he charged the state $2700 a year for pistachio ice cream. Last year, police recommended the prosecution of Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, for misappropriation of state funds for the refurbishment and redecoration of their own home, and for billing the state for the (inflated) cost of private dinner parties.

And his current premiership has also been accompanied by repeated accusations, investigated by the police under the cryptic names of Case 1000 (relating to bribes and gifts from businessmen), Case 2000 (attempts to buy or coerce favourable press coverage), Case 3000 (conflict of interests in the purchase of submarines from Germany), and Case 4000 (lying in order to help a friend gain government telecommunication contracts). Netanyahu’s response to the police recommendation to charge him on the first two of these was to brag that he had been investigated at least fifteen times before, and had survived all of these.

But it seems likely that these charges will be brought, and that Netanyahu will lose office following a prosecution for corruption, rather than face the war crimes charges he deserves. Although this will lead to great rejoicing in Israel, it is possible – even likely – as Israeli journalist Gideon Levy warns, that his replacement will be even worse.

Meanwhile, even as we recognise that this racism and hubris on the part of our enemies is only a symptom, and not the root, of a rotten system, we can all be permitted – as Leah Levane of Jewish Voice for Labour noted at the recent Labour Representation Committee AGM – a feeling of schadenfreude at this self-destruction of such despicable characters.


[1] Previous Israeli PMs have also lost office amid corruption charges. Ehud Olmert was convicted of bribery in 2014, and served an 18-month prison sentence. Yitzhak Rabin’s first term ended in 1977 after allegations of an illegal foreign bank account forced his resignation

 

2 Comments

  1. The episode of Jeremy Newmark seems especially egregious since the LP’s disciplinary committee has decided to expel Tony Greenstein for alleged antisemitism. I must say it crossed my mind to resign from the LP over this, but I am sure that there will be those who would urge me to reconsider. It’s as if nothing has happened and the JLM still determines anything to do with Israel and Zionism and the LP.

    • It’s important to note that Tony Greenstein was not expelled for antisemitism. All of these charges and allegations were dropped, and he was expelled for alleged abusive behaviour towards other members.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*