JERUSALEM (Jan. 18)
Knesset member Benjamin Netanyahu, a contender for the leadership of the Likud bloc, has filed a complaint with the police reportedly implicating two officials of his party in an attempt to blackmail him over an extramarital affair.
Netanyahu’s wife, Sarah, received a phone call last week threatening to publish a video-cassette of the former deputy foreign minister with another woman unless he dropped out of the race for the Likud leadership.
The race, in which six Knesset members are running, is due to culminate in primaries next month, in which all of the party’s 200,000-odd registered members are eligible to select a leader to replace Yitzhak Shamir, who is retiring.
Sources close to Netanyahu were quoted by Israel Radio as saying the two Likud officials cited in the complaint had been heard making reference to the videotape before news of its existence was released by Netanyahu himself last week, in an appearance on national television in which he admitted to the affair.
The two officials’ identities were not disclosed, however, either by Netanyahu or by police sources. Police Commissioner Ya’acov Terner said he had given strict orders to keep a blanket of discretion on the complaint and the inquiry that has now begun.
Supporters of David Levy, who is one of Netanyahu’s chief rivals for the leadership post, are continuing to demand that Netanyahu name those he suspects immediately. The reason is that Netanyahu broadly hinted in his Jan. 14 television appearance that Levy was behind the blackmail attempt.
SEPARATING PRIVATE FROM PUBLIC LIFE
Sources in the Levy camp have suggested that Netanyahu, who is widely known here by the nickname “Bibi,” may have fabricated the entire episode in order to garner support in the upcoming party primaries.
These sources claim diligent grass-roots work by the Levy camp has now put the former foreign minister ahead of Netanyahu in the race. This even though the media continue to refer to Netanyahu as the front-runner.
When the blackmail story originally broke last week, the Levy camp did not question the credibility of the facts but suggested that Netanyahu was using a potentially unpleasant affair to win political sympathy.
In his television appearance, the charismatic 43-year-old politician, who is married for the third time, admitted he had been conducting an extramarital affair, but said it had ceased several months ago.
He insisted that a politician’s private life has nothing to do with his public persona and urged Likud members to make their choice on the merits of the candidates’ records and platforms.
This is believed to be the first time that an Israeli politician has been confronted with allegations of marital infidelity in the course of a run for office.
It may be emblematic of the new brand of Israeli politics, where party leadership contests are now being decided through popular, American-style primaries rather than in the smoke-filled rooms of party committees.