BEHIND THE HEADLINES Decision to not indict premier boosts holiday mood in Israel

JERUSALEM, April 21 (JTA) — The political cloud that has hung over the country for the past three months appeared to be dissipating with the start of Passover. The decision by Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein not to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in connection with the Bar-On affair — along with reports that the government was not in imminent danger of collapse — appeared to have put Israelis in a very good mood. Preoccupied with last-minute preparations for the eight-day holiday, people here good-naturedly debated Rubinstein’s decision to clear Netanyahu and Justice Minister Tzachi Hanegbi of criminal charges in connection with allegations that the short-lived January appointment of Likud activist Roni Bar-On as attorney general was part of a political deal. Indeed, the only dissatisfaction was expressed by supporters of the fervently Orthodox Sephardi Shas Party, whose leader, Knesset member Aryeh Deri, was the sole person to be targeted by Rubinstein. Charging that Deri had sought Bar-On’s appointment as part of a deal under which the Shas leader would get a plea bargain in his own ongoing corruption trial, Rubinstein announced Sunday that he would seek an indictment against Deri for alleged breach of trust, fraud and extortion. But with the exception of Shas supporters, who planned a mass rally later this week to protest Deri’s indictment, most Israelis appeared more concerned with their holiday plans. Most of those interviewed while they were busily preparing for Passover expressed the belief that whatever happens politically in the coming months, “yehiheh be’seder,” — everything will be all right. As Sarah Cohen, a Jerusalem mother, said, “It’s not like this is a terrorist attack. No one’s died. Whatever happens, we’ll deal with it.” While some maintained that Netanyahu is guilty of a crime and should be punished, virtually all concurred that Rubinstein’s decision not to indict the prime minister had prevented a full-scale political upheaval. “Things would have been terrible if Bibi had been indicted, because the government might have collapsed,” said Amar, an Arab from eastern Jerusalem. Amar, who works in a kosher food store, added, “there are scandals like this all over the world. When it comes to politics, Israel is no better or worse than anywhere else.” As for the future of the peace process, Amar said, “It will depend on the will of the people, not on whether Bibi or [Shimon] Peres rules the country. “Unfortunately, terrorists on both sides, not leaders, determine whether there’s peace between our people, or war.” Taking a break from vacuuming all traces of chametz from his living room, Ronen Kory, a classical musician, said, “I honestly don’t care that much about the case and, anyway, I’m a fatalist. I think that whatever happens is meant to be, regardless of who is in power.” Kory, a newly observant Jew who calls his political views “center, towards the left,” said that the country’s fate is ultimately up to its citizens and God. “If we, the people of Israel, are moral enough, God will create a good situation whether Bibi or Peres is in office, and if we aren’t moral enough, God will create a bad situation.” Like many others, Kory said he did not want to comment on Rubinstein’s decisions until he’d had an opportunity to read the attorney general’s report. “I don’t know much about the case, so I don’t know whether the prosecutor did a god job. But I do trust Rubinstein. He was a member of the previous government too, and he has no subjective interest in protecting Netanyahu.” Some, like Tsvi Brooke Loring, a new immigrant from New York, were much less optimistic about the scandal’s outcome. “It’s true that an indictment and its aftermath would have torn up the country, but I believe that Netanyahu is guilty and should resign. “From what I heard from the report, it seems like Netanyahu did it, but that there’s not enough evidence to prove it. He got away with a terrible crime.” Loring said that his opinions regarding the scandal had not been colored by his political views. “The fact that I voted for [former Prime Minister Shimon] Peres and not Netanyahu doesn’t mean I take delight in his misfortunes. I want what’s best for the country. Ultimately, the truth must come out.” Even some of Netanyahu’s supporters said they had lingering concerns about his innocence. “The attorney general left doubts as to whether Netanyahu is guilty or innocent. We still don’t know,” said 38-year-old Shlomo Preston, a modern Orthodox Jew who had just burned his chametz in an overgrown lot. Preston, who said he chose Netanyahu over Peres “as the better of two evils” at the voting booth last May, said he wanted to read Rubinstein’s report before discussing his conclusions. “The fact that Netanyahu wasn’t indicted doesn’t mean that there aren’t any corrupt elements in the government. My understanding is that the report doesn’t exonerate Bibi or the others; there’s just not enough evidence to indict. That’s not the same thing.” Responding to charges by Netanyahu and others that the police investigation originated in the opposition’s desire to topple the government, Preston said, “This is a democratic country. If there was a doubt in anyone’s mind that Bar-On was appointed in an underhanded way, these suspicions had to be checked out. “If anything,” Preston added, “this whole affair has given me more faith in the country’s democratic values.”

NEXT STORY