The Difference Between Richmond and Jerusalem

By Daniel Farber Ball

History was made in Virginia on Thursday, Sept. 4, as Robert F. McDonnell became the state’s first governor to be convicted of a crime. The former governor and his wife Maureen were found guilty on several corruption charges, for accepting lavish gifts and money from a local businessman, in a trial that could have won a day-time Emmy award for best soap opera.

That same Thursday in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Netanyahu and first lady Sarah Netanyahu got some wonderful news. Israel’s General Attorney Yehuda Weinstein announced he is closing, after three and half years of investigation, what was known as the “Bibi-Tours” case. Israeli media reaction was mixed but also mild.

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The investigation started in 2010 when investigative journalist Raviv Drucker uncovered that while Netanyahu served as the minister of finance in 2006 there were irregularities and double-billing in a number of his airplane flights. Furthermore, Drucker claimed an Israeli businessman allegedly gave money to Netanyahu’s driver to give to his boss.

 The Sunday after the General Attorney’s announcement Drucker posted a column in his blog (in Hebrew) where he basically accused Weinstein in covering for Netanyahu. A shorter version of the blog also appeared on the Ha’aretz website. The Ha’aretz newspaper is the most left of the mainstream Israeli news outlets, and its editorial that weekend also questioned the decision.

‘Yediot Acharonot’ newspaper and its website Ynet are editorially more in the center of the political game but past allegations were made that the group is biased against Netanyahu. Yediot’s Friday edition did state on the cover that the “Bibi-Tours” case was closed. But it was written in small script, at the bottom of the page, between an ad and the times Shabbat starts. All the Friday front pages are available in Hebrew on VelvetUnderground.co.il. Furthermore, on Saturday, Ynet was the first website (as far as I saw) to bring the criticism of a former general attorney.

Also in the political center is Ma’ariv, a newspaper that changed owners and agendas in the past few years. The paper gave the story the cover of their Friday edition along with a short column by Ben Caspit, who was against the decision. As a columnist, Caspit is considered to be on the right, but he is also not a big Netanyahu fan.

Israel’s most read newspaper is ‘Israel Hayom’. It is free and is owned by the American Sheldon Adelson, a Netanyahu’s supporter, who also backs the Republican Party. The paper, without using the term “Bibi-Tours,” mentioned the decision in a small box on the cover, with a picture of the prime minster and his wife and a caption saying no misconduct was found.

Back in the United States, the day after the Virginia verdict, The Washington Post headline shouted “McDonnells found guilty of corruption.” The Internet also gushed with comments. And while the Virginia couple awaits sentencing, it’s business as usual for Netanyahu and the Israeli media.

Photograph of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and first lady Sarah Netanyahu courtesy of Flickr through Creative Commons

 

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