Frontpage: One of the distressing aspects of the police probes against Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is that police seem to be attributing criminality to normal policy-making.
To date, the Bezeq-Walla investigation, dubbed Case 4000 by the police, is being presented as the mother lode – the probe that will sink Netanyahu.
Case 4000 exploded last week with pre-dawn arrests of some of the most powerful people in Israel. Telecommunications giant Bezeq’s owner Shaul Elovitch, his wife, Iris, and their son Or were nabbed in their beds. So was Netanyahu’s former communications chief Nir Hefetz and former director-general of the Communications Ministry and Netanyahu confidante Shlomo Filber.
The headlines screamed “Bribery!” And the reports were no calmer.
The media reported that the police have hard evidence Netanyahu and Filber colluded to give Netanyahu’s crony Elovitch hundreds of millions of shekels in tax and regulatory breaks for Bezeq. In exchange, Elovitch, who also owns the popular Walla Internet site, agreed to give positive coverage of Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, on Walla’s news site.
Before we could consider the evidence, Netanyahu’s fate was sealed. He was a goner.
But when the smoke cleared, it became apparent that there isn’t anything there.
Netanyahu and Filber did give Bezeq and its subsidiary, satellite television provider Yes, regulatory and tax breaks.
On the regulatory side, the Communications Ministry agreed to end the forced separation between the two commonly owned corporations.
As Eli Zippori noted last Friday in Globes, far from being a criminal conspiracy, the move was perfectly sound policy. By allowing the two companies to work together, the government improved the lot of consumers. Together they could offer the public discounted service bundles that include landlines, Internet service and television service.
Moreover, in exchange for permitting them to work together, Bezeq agreed to permit private Internet providers to operate off of its communications infrastructure. Today, Zippori noted, 550,000 Israelis receive Internet through such services.
Would another policy move have brought better results for the public? Maybe. But that doesn’t mean this policy was wrong or criminal.
As for the tax breaks, it is true that Yes received hundreds of millions in tax relief. Yet as Zippori noted, Yes’s corporate losses topped a billion shekels. The Income Tax Authority routinely gives tax relief to corporations that lose money. And the higher the losses, the higher the tax break.
Would it have been better for the government to discriminate against Yes? Maybe. But that doesn’t mean this policy was wrong or criminal. MORE HERE