The Father, the Son and the Unholy Spirits (and Strippers)


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem January 7, 2018. REUTERS/Abir Sultan/Pool

“It is a family matter,” argued White House spokesman Scott McClellan. The year was 2001, and President George W. Bush’s twin 19-year-old daughters had just been caught by the police as they were trying to buy alcohol illegally at a Mexican restaurant.

It is a “witch hunt,” complained Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when a tape surfaced, documenting how his son Yair got drunk, associated with the offspring of wealthy Israelis, attended strip clubs and appeared to offer these fun bodies sexual favors from a female friend in exchange for money.

The Netanyahu scandal is louder. And it rests on several separate pillars of unease: 1. Netanyahu the son was having fun with the son of a tycoon who highly benefited from decisions made by Netanyahu the father. 2. The son is protected by Israel’s security agencies. 3. He was going to strip clubs and was having a night of debauchery that civilized people rightly condemn.

Yair Netanyahu is private citizen. He has no official role. On the other hand, it is well known that he lives in the official residence of the prime minister, that he advises his father, that he is involved in the wheeling and dealing of his father’s politics. Israelis pay his rent, they pay for his security.

This is a nasty affair. It is gossipy. It leaves an aftertaste.

This is a nasty affair. It is gossipy. It leaves an aftertaste. The behavior of a group of young and privileged Israelis is exposed, and it is disgusting. The prime minister’s son sounds like a punk, and one would hope that he is truly ashamed of it, as his statement seems to suggest: “These words do not represent who I am, the values I was raised on, or the principles I believe in. I regret saying them and apologize if anyone was offended by them,” young Netanyahu stated.

Other than that, there is very little substance to this scandal. The banter concerning Israel’s gas deal — Netanyahu asks the son of a businessman to “spot him” pocket money in return for the gas deal that benefited the tycoon businessman — is, well, banter. The strip club visit is something that many other young, and older, Israelis do. The dirty talk and denigrating comments are no worse than those uttered by the sitting president of the United States. We could feel for the security guards, tasked with wasting their nights watching this guy, but the issue with them is strictly professional: If there is an Israeli interest in protecting Netanyahu’s son, then they must be there.

In fact, the most troubling aspect of this affair is the impact it could have on the prime minister. On the night the scandal broke out, the Knesset passed highly controversial legislation that could ban the opening of stores on Shabbat. On that same night (and this is more serious), Israel — reportedly — sent its air force to attack an army base outside Damascus.

When such decisions are made, Israel needs an experienced and cool-headed leader, and what this leader’s son does, or how he behaves, or what language he uses, is completely irrelevant. Let Netanyahu the father be the prime minister. Ignore his son, one of many rotten apples. But there is another side to this equation: When such decisions are made, Israel needs a clear-headed leader. It needs a leader who is not too preoccupied with investigations (Netanyahu serves under the cloud of several investigations), it needs a leader who is not too preoccupied with the need to discipline his son, or to draft statements responding to reports of his son’s ugly behavior.

Of course, such preoccupation with side shows is a double dagger. Netanyahu argues that the news media, by wasting the time of citizens and his own time on nonsense such as Yair’s strip club affair, are disserving Israel. He is certain that everything said against him is connected: the police investigations, the family scandals, the Tel Aviv rallies against corruption — all are part of a mounting effort by his rivals to dethrone him. His rivals make the opposite argument: The police investigations, the family scandals, the Tel Aviv rallies all prove that Netanyahu can no longer be prime minister. That he can no longer function. That he can no longer be trusted to make decisions based on Israel’s interests, as his main motivation is political survival.

Hence, the scandal. Hence, the debate over whether the scandal is worthy of its scandalous status.

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