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Corruption Allegations Fly In Israel Netanyahu Government Cut Deal For Hebron Vote, Report Claims

Boston Globe

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has become engulfed in recent days by allegations of grave corruption at the highest level. If a police investigation, begun in earnest Monday, proves the charges even partly valid, the case could bring down the government.

So far, the allegations come from one source only: Israel’s Channel One television news and its criminal affairs reporter, who has declined to make public either documentation or sourcing on the report.

Nonetheless, the charges are so serious that many members of Netanyahu’s Cabinet have already gone on record saying the government will not survive if the scandal is genuine.

Others have made clear that the future of Channel One, which is state-owned, would be in jeopardy if the story proves false.

Channel One’s evening news reported last Wednesday that the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, Aryeh Deri, who is on trial for bribery and fraud, cut a deal with someone close to Netanyahu over the naming of a new attorney general.

According to the report, the deal involved the nomination of Roni BarOn, who would agree to reduce the charges against Deri to a misdemeanor. In exchange, Shas’ two Cabinet members would support Netanyahu’s decision to withdraw Israeli troops from most of Hebron, avoiding the upheaval that a Cabinet stalemate on redeployment would cause.

The scandal, dubbed “Bar-On for Hebron,” has dominated the media and political discussions here since the weekend when Netanyahu denied the charges as a “complete fabrication” and then shifted, saying that to his knowledge, they were baseless.

Bar-On was selected by Netanyahu to be attorney general although he lasted only a day in the job, resigning under pressure from much of the legal profession and even many of Netanyahu’s Likud colleagues who called the lawyer underqualified at best and a party hack at worst.

After the resignation, Shas voted for the Hebron redeployment saying it did so on orders from its spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who had made a religious ruling on Hebron, and with no bearing on Deri’s legal woes. The Cabinet vote was 11-7 in favor of the Hebron deal.

Israeli journalism is generally lively, probing and often thoughtful but not always subject to the highest evidentiary standards. Rumors and hunches can end up reported as fact with little effort later to correct the record.

But the TV reporter who broke the story, Ayala Hasson, 34, has said that she and her editors stand by every word of the story.

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