Throwaway thoughts of the power hungry


net upset (2)

Behind all the tough talk of powerful people lies a smaller, more humble human: what do they say to their pillows at night?

ISRAEL and South Africa share something in common – they are both perfect examples of the maxim that power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The tactic making the headlines in South Africa today is how Daily Maverick journalist Marianne Thamm stooped to the lowest possible level by rifling through the trash can of Economic Freedom Fighters cadres and writing a story based on her findings.

What would a similar tactic reveal if it was applied on a more philosophical level to Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu? So, rather than doing a forensic analysis of the rubbish in his dustbin, it would cast a forensic eye at his thoughts as he puts his head on his pillow at night. Today, he basically runs the state of Israel with self-serving actions aimed only at keeping himself in power and holding onto its benefits. Court actions and criticisms surrounding him show this phenomenon clearly. It is likely he will be indicted and may even go to jail.

Netanyahu’s former media consultant, Yossy Levy, has spoken out publically about his former boss, who he says has no serious long-term vision for Israel. Levy became his senior aide in 2008, and was promoted to the role of media advisor when he became Prime Minister.

He is quoted as saying Netanyahu has “no qualms about any trick or shtick and makes a mockery of everyone,” and the continuation of Netanyahu’s power is the only thing he holds sacred.

People tend to see Netanyahu as a “magician” who brought the Likud party to an unprecedented high of 12 seats in 2006. But Levy says Netanyahu is drowning in investigations and cannot function properly, and hasn’t a moral or public mandate to make fateful decisions. Many people are worried he will make critical decisions based on his own personal interests rather than on those of the state of Israel.

Netanyahu has, amongst other things, demonstrated a willingness to make alliances with parties in Israel that would be anathema to a more balanced approach. He has also led Israel into a relationship with the most anti-Semitic authoritarian regimes such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Furthermore, to the dismay of many Jews and Israelis, he has openly developed a closeness to the US President Donald Trump, deemed untrustworthy and dangerous to most of the thinking world. He has played off the ultra-religious parties against their secular counterparts, once again to stay in power. But even more seriously, he has thumbed a nose at the legal institutions of the state of Israel by supporting the Nation-State Bill which has turned Israel into an “ethnic” state, rather than what its founders, including David Ben-Gurion, envisaged.

Netanyahu has, in addition to all of these misdemeanours, kept elements of the Israeli public transfixed by his ability to continue acting the role of strong man who will keep Israel safe, in the assumption that defence is the primary role of successful leadership in Israel.

What could Netanyahu think in his private moments? Is it blind power all the way, or is there a human being somewhere inside there who feels embarrassed at the lengths to which he has gone to stay on top? Does he feel remorse for the people he has pushed aside? Does he fear the looming possibility of indictment? Does he acknowledge his mortality, remembering he won’t be Prime Minister for ever?

We can obviously never pick through the throwaway thoughts of anyone, just as prying in dustbins is borderline immoral, but one can’t help but speculate at what the private life of Netanyahu may reveal at this moment in history.

GEOFF SIFRIN is a journalist in Johannesburg, South Africa, and former Editor of the SA Jewish Report. Email: 

A billionaire behind Israeli politics is a Hollywood kingpin

pretty woman producer arnon milchan with peres and netanyahu

From a spy to a movie maker: Arnon Milchan was an arms dealer who helped Israel acquire French helicopters and other military hardware; later he transformed himself into a great Hollywood movie mogul, with contemporary classics such as Pretty Woman and Bohemian Rhapsody. He is seen here with Israeli leaders Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu

THE ongoing saga about the possible indictment of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for fraud and breach of trust has surprising tentacles, some connected to South Africa. They raise moral dilemmas about the survival of Israel and what it has needed to do over the years to achieve this in a tough world where enemies are waiting around every corner.

A colourful figure and reputed friend of Israeli politicians over many decades who has helped Israel, dating all the way back to David Ben Gurion, is Arnon Milchan. He is a billionaire Hollywood mogul who has produced or co-produced dozens of movie classics, including ‘Pretty Woman,’ and recently ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’ He is a one of the greatest Hollywood names of the past few decades.

But he has another significant role aside from the movies: He is also a legendary arms dealer whose name has been well known to Israeli politicians and defence officials over many decades because of his involvement in covert operations for military equipment for Israel when Israel desperately needed this kind of help.

Milchan was connected to a large number of such acquisitions and intelligence operations. When France was a major weapons supplier, Milchan helped arrange helicopters, after the executives of the French manufacturer, Aerospatiale, saw the value of his close connections with powerful Israeli defence people such as Moshe Dayan and Shimon Peres. Later, Milchan developed relationships with American manufacturers, involving things like missiles, helicopters, and antitank missiles.

Today, commentators believe police investigations about Milchan’s extensive contacts with Netanyahu, and possible corruption, could potentially send the prime minister to jail, although many Israelis still regard Netanyahu as the only one with the experience and know-how to keep Israel safe and would hate to see him go.

Regarding Netanyahu’s tax scandal and Milchan’s involvement, Israeli attorney-general Avichai Mendelblit warned on Sunday of a possible ‘real erosion’ of the rule of law, meaning Netanyahu’s attempt to change the law in order to prevent indictment of a sitting prime minister, to protect himself. A draft indictment on Netanyahu says he received gifts and benefits from Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer, in return helping them with actions worth billions.

The South African link, which still hangs like an old cloud over Israel’s relations with South African liberation movements, and is exploited by Israel’s latter-day foes, still makes South African Jews uncomfortable. It’s about Israel’s controversial sale of military hardware to South Africa during apartheid. Although the background at the time was very complicated and so much water has passed under the bridge since then, it is right that Jews should still feel compromised by this relationship, particularly in the ‘new’ South Africa, and when Israel has shifted so significantly to the right that the old idealistic Israel of Ben Gurion’s day has faded.

What’s to learn from this? Can a country like Israel which is still surrounded by enemies choose freely who it associates with, regardless of its partner’s morality? Sadly, Israel, which is a phenomenal success story today, is developing under Netanyahu a cosy relationship with ethnic, far-right regimes hostile to foreigners, such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, because Netanyahu believes Israel will benefit, and he shares some of his views. The Nation-State Bill passed last year which specifies Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, and which encountered major criticism internationally, points in this direction.

There are unfortunate echoes of Israel’s past relationship to South Africa in this association. We don’t know yet if Netanyahu will be indicted, but let’s hope Israel will not suffer because of his links with Hungary and similar authoritarian regimes.

GEOFF SIFRIN is a journalist in Johannesburg, South Africa, and former Editor of the SA Jewish Report. Email: