A Tale of 2 Leaders: Israeli PM Bibi Netanyahu and Former Phils President Erap Estrada (Part 1)

I am reposting this for Election Day today.

One of the great advantages of #2ndmiddleage is the ability to apply the lessons of the past to challenges in the present.

This week I am looking back at events nearly twenty years ago in Manila, Philippines leading up to the ouster of then-President Joseph ‘Erap’ Estrada to better understand similar developments in Israel and the criminal indictments filed against sitting Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, including allegations as those faced by Estrada of fraud, misuse of public funds, suppression of evidence, undue influence, etc.

Before anyone gets upset – I am not equating Israel and the Philippines in a general sense.  Israel is a developed country and a member of the OECD. The Philippines is an emerging SouthEast Asian economy and Asian Tiger with ongoing rule-of-law challenges, where for example, the global owner of the Lee Jeans famous trademark lost rights to a local Lee, with allegations of money changing hands behind closed doors at the Philippines Supreme Court.  (This is an old case, perhaps not fair to raise nearly twenty five years after the fact; it made a big impact on me in the mid-90’s during my State Department tour of duty in Manila as a thing that happened.)

Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu (CNN File Photo)

This is not about Israel but Netanyahu, the first-ever sitting PM to be indicted, with charges relating to 3 serious corruption cases, and yet not out of the woods on the Submarines Graft case.

In the 3 cases where the Prime Minister has been indicted, the specific charges are:

File 2000 – Taking a bribe, Breach of trust charges relating to allegations that the PM provided benefits to a major media mogul (Wallah) in return for favorable media coverage on the popular and influential Wallah Website;

File 4000 – an additional Breach of Trust charge involving changing the coverage of the major Yediot Ahronot media group in favor of the PM, in return for legislation that would favor the publisher’s business interests; and,

File 1000 – a Breach of Trust charge where the PM received a continuing pipeline of luxury goods in return for taking actions in his role as Prime Minister that in appropriately favored one of the men who was the source of supply.

Paraphrased from: “Full text: AG’s announcement of decision to indict Prime Minister Netanyahu,” Times of Israel, 22 November 2019, available online at: https://www.timesofisrael.com/full-text-ags-announcement-of-decision-to-indict-prime-minister-netanyahu/

There is a fourth serious case, File 4000, that involves involves bribery, conflict of interest, money laundering and fraud relating to a $2 Billion purchase of submarines from Germany. To date, the PM has been a named witness and has not been indicted in File 4000.  (That is the shoe that has yet to drop; given the PM’s reputation as a micromanager who trusts no one, there is some skepticism that something that big could go on outside his reach.)

Like it nor not, Bibi finds himself in similar circumstances in Jerusalem in 2020, as Erap did in 2001 as a sitting President of the Philippines under indictment for corruption and bribery. 

As mentioned, Bibi is the first-ever sitting Prime Minister to be indicted during his term of office in the history of the State of Israel.

Both Bibi and Erap faced the prospect of serious criminal charges for bribery and corruption, both sought legislative immunity and/or protection and took other steps, directly and indirectly to suppress key evidence needed by the prosecution and to counter public unrest.

And both blamed enemies and rivals for political vendettas and sought to evade accountability for their actions.

Of course we know how the story ended for Erap; he did not succeed in either completing his term in office or avoiding ultimate criminal prosecution. (Spoiler alert: he received a pardon from his successor and bounced back to become a two-term mayor of Manila from 2013 to 2019.)

Part 2 will revisit what happened in the Philippines, and what lessons, if any this may hold for Bibi.

(End of Part 1)

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