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The hegemony over the Hebrew press in Israel by the far Left has always been a threat to Israeli democracy. The Left utilizes its near-monopoly over the press to promote its extremist and defeatist agenda in a naked manner. The Oslo debacle would never have occurred without Israel’s far Left exercising near-totalitarian control over the Hebrew press and electronic media.
But now there is a clear and present danger that Israel’s leftist-controlled Hebrew press may simply “steal” the election away from Ariel Sharon and grant it to Amram Mitzna.
It was, of course, expected that the press would conscript itself as partisan promoters of Mitzna in this election. But the current jihad against Sharon, coming just weeks before the election, is more than anyone thought possible.
Israel’s Hebrew press has simply declared war on Sharon. It is doing so in the form of endless daily front-page giant headlines about Sharon’s supposed involvement in “corruption.” The media campaign is well organized and rather transparent. The great irony is that Sharon, while not exactly bereft of sleaze, is far less corrupt than Amram Mitzna and the Israeli Labor Party.
The background to all this and to the press’s totalitarian jihad on behalf of Amram Mitzna goes back to 1999. At that time, Sharon was fighting a Likud internal primaries campaign challenging Netanyahu — a campaign, by the way, that he lost.
Sharon financed that campaign the same way all Israeli politicians do, with contributions from donors abroad or from Israelis funneled through overseas dummy corporations. Sharon’s doing so was not exactly clean, but it was peanuts compared with the illegal campaign financing schemes of Ehud Barak, Amram Mitzna, and other Labor Party leaders. (Netanyau’s finances were hardly cleaner either.)
Overseas money routinely corrupts Israeli politics. It is what props up the Far Left and even the Arab fascist political parties running in the Knesset, but it also routinely flows into the coffers of the Labor Party and the Likud.
Not only were Sharon’s 1999 primary campaign finances not exceptional in having benefited from some money from overseas, but they were downright honorable compared with the conventional campaign practices in Israel.
This was the case for several reasons: First, the money was being used for a primaries campaign, where Israel’s campaign finance laws are looser than for a real election. Second, no one claims the money was coming from anyone with special interests or expecting some sort of quid pro quo from Sharon, unlike — notoriously unlike — the Mitzna campaign sleaze.
In any event, two years after Sharon had lost those primaries and Ehud Barak came close to ceding Jerusalem and irreparably harming the rest of Israel as prime minister, the state comptroller issued a report on campaign finance corruption.
Much of the report focused on Ehud Barak and the Labor Party, particularly the unprecedented sleaze and corruption in Barak’s campaign, but it also managed to mention Sharon’s questionable finances in those Likud primaries. The comptroller ordered Sharon to repay 4.7 million shekels in campaign contributions that had been received in 1999 through an overseas dummy corporation.
Sharon’s problem was that he had lost those primaries and so could hardly cover the costs of the reimbursement through raiding the Treasury coffers — which someone in his position might have done. So, to come up with the cash and to obey the comptroller, Sharon tried to mortgage his ranch, worth quite a lot.
(It is not clear exactly where Sharon got the money for the ranch, but the very fact that the press has not tried to make a lurid issue out of that shows that it was probably all legitimate.)
The problem was that because of Israel’s bizarre socialist land nationalization system, the ranch is on land “leased” from the Israel Lands Authority. Even though the ranch is worth oodles, technically Sharon could not borrow against it to get the cash.
Instead, he approached his old chum Cyril Kern. Kern is a native Londoner who had served with Sharon as a volunteer in the Hagana in the Israeli War of Independence, stayed on close terms with Sharon, and owns a moderate empire of textile factories in South Africa. Sharon asked his two sons to take care of the paperwork, and Kern loaned the Sharons $1.5 million to pay the reimbursement ordered by the comptroller. Later, the Sharons took out an ordinary loan in Israel from a bank, all above board, and used it to pay back Kern.
So in essence the whole hullabaloo in the Israeli press has to do with the fact that the Sharons took out a bridge loan from an old chum of Ariel Sharon in order to comply with the state comptroller’s order. Kern has no business interests in Israel and so was clearly not being nice to gain favors or patronage from Sharon — of the sort that Amram Mitzna has rained down on Gad Zeevi and the other business cronies of his.
And all of this over a mere $1.5 million, a loan that was repaid in full. Compare this to the many millions of dollars created for Mitzna’s contractor cronies while Mitzna was mayor of Haifa. Compare this with Mitzna’s stonewalling and refusal to disclose who made contributions to his “Katom” election fund, or Mitzna’s refusal to disclose which contractors are funding him now and which favors they were promised in exchange.
The press is making a big deal out of the fact that, when questioned about the Kern loan, Sharon had stated that he had mortgaged his ranch to raise the money to repay the campaign contributions. He did not technically record any lien against the ranch in the land registry for Kern. If he had, then it would have been an ordinary mortgage, with no bending of the truth.
I suppose Sharon might have indicated informally to Kern, as a gentleman’s agreement, that Kern could regard the Sharon ranch as his collateral, and no doubt Kern would have responded along the lines of tut tut, pshaw pshaw.
And as a matter of fact, such an informal agreement, if not denied by either party, is valid and is a lien and so can be considered a “mortgage.” The leftist press regards all this as Third World corruption, as high crimes and misdemeanors without precedent.
Was Sharon Ivory Clean in all this? Of course not. Is he tainted with at least some bit of sleaze? Of course he is. The Likud is a mildly corrupt and totally incompetent political party. But Israeli elections are invariably about choosing between incompetence and survival.
Other than a single scoop (in Maariv earlier this month) on Mitzna’s ties with Gad Zeevi, the press has been thunderously silent about sleaze in the Mitzna campaign and about Mitzna’s highly questionable dealings as mayor of Haifa. It is as if a code of Mafia-style omerta has settled around Mitzna like a protective Honor Cloud, erected by the totalitarian Israeli Hebrew press. The scandal about Peres’s Labor Party comrade Yossi Ginnosar’s money laundering for the PLO? Not even in small print on the back page!
The real scandal in all this? The real corruption? It is the totalitarian hegemony and misuse of the Israeli Hebrew press for partisan purposes.
About the Author: Steven Plaut is a professor at the University of Haifa. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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