The past controversies of Benjamin Netanyahu

Protests have reached a boiling point in Israel after the government passed a bill to overhaul the country’s judiciary, limiting the ability of the Israeli Supreme Court to conduct oversight. These controversies have proven greatly unpopular, and at the center of the furor is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has continually pressed forward with the reforms. 

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Netanyahu has been harshly criticized over these attempts, with opposition leader Yair Lapid saying that Netanyahu is “not really Israel’s prime minister” and is performing “an empty show, because it is not within his authority,” per The Times of Israel. There was also international backlash, with President Joe Biden telling Axios that Israel’s “current judicial reform proposal is becoming more divisive, not less” and that it “doesn’t make sense for Israeli leaders to rush this — the focus should be on pulling people together and finding consensus.”

But this is hardly the first go-around of controversy for Netanyahu. The prime minister, who has held power on and off since 1996, has been involved in a “spiraling saga of legal troubles and scandals that have plagued the leader’s three-decade political career,” The Associated Press reported. 

Problems in the ’90s

In 1997, Netanyahu, who was then in his first time as prime minister, had his administration rocked, and nearly brought down, by an influence-peddling scandal,” Haaretz reported. Known as the Bar-on-Hebron affair, the controversy involved Ronnie Bar-On, who was appointed attorney general by Netanyahu. However, Bar-On resigned after just 48 hours amid allegations that political leader Aryeh Deri, who was facing criminal charges, pushed Netanyahu to appoint Bar-On as “attorney general in exchange for the promise of a plea bargain in his case,” The New York Times reported. Netanyahu is alleged to have appointed Bar-On in exchange for Deri’s political support despite a “storm of protests from jurists and politicians who said [Bar-On] was not qualified.”

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Netanyahu was never charged and told CNN the scandal was “blown out of proportion and twisted out of shape.” He added that he “committed no wrongdoing” but “made mistakes, and I have to correct them.”

Misuse of funds

Netanyahu was criticized in 2016 after a state expense report revealed that he “spent more than $600,000 of public funds on a six-day trip to New York, including $1,600 on a personal hairdresser,” The Associated Press reported. This is not the first time the prime minister was in hot water over his use of funds, as he was previously “criticized for spending $127,000 in public funds for a special sleeping cabin on a five-hour flight to London.” Netanyahu claimed that he was unaware of the exorbitant costs, per the AP. It seems Netanyahu may also share Biden’s love for ice cream, as it was revealed that his office “ran up a $2,700 bill for his favorite flavors, vanilla and pistachio.”

Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, was also caught up in a similar controversy, as she was “suspected of having used taxpayers’ money to pay for her late father’s care while he was living at the official Jerusalem residence,” Al Jazeera reported. The couple has “long faced scrutiny over their spending and accusations that their lifestyles are out of touch with regular Israelis,” the outlet added. 

Criminal charges

Netanyahu was indicted in 2019 in three separate cases, charged with fraud, breach of trust, and bribery. The first case was related to his alleged receiving of gifts, valued around $200,000, that “became a sort of ‘supply channel'” of fraud, BBC News reported. The second case involved meetings between Netanyahu and media mogul Arnon Mozes, who allegedly “engaged in discussions regarding the promotion of their common interests: improving the coverage that Netanyahu received in [Mozes’] media group, and the imposition of restrictions on the Israel Hayom newspaper,” BBC News added. The third case involved an alleged “reciprocal arrangement” between Netanyahu and Shaul Elovitch, the head of Israel’s largest telecommunications company. Netanyahu allegedly took “specific actions that promoted significant business interests of Elovitch of substantial financial value.”

Netanyahu’s trial began in 2020 and is ongoing. The controversy over the charges led Netanyahu to relinquish his cabinet posts besides that of prime minister. He has consistently maintained his innocence. 

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