JERUSALEM (JTA) – Israeli citizens and politicians alike have many questions for the Netanyahu family right now.
Citizens are wondering what kind of parents Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara are after a two-year-old recording was made public of their son, Yair, talking about soliciting prostitutes and pimping out his girlfriend.
Politicians are wondering why the younger Netanyahu hung out with the son of gas tycoon Kobi Maimon, and what he meant when he said that his father had gotten the elder Maimon a “sweet” $20 billion deal to develop gas fields off Israel’s Mediterranean coast.
The recording was broadcast Monday evening by the Israel Television News Company, even though the Prime Minister’s Office reportedly tried to block it from airing. The elder Netanyahu has also called on the broadcaster to say whether or not it paid for the recording, which is believed to have been made by a driver for the Prime Minister’s Office – and, if so, how much.
Yair Netanyahu, now 26, was apparently drunk and accompanied by a driver and a state-salaried bodyguard when he visited several Tel Aviv clubs with Nir Maimon and Roman Abramov, the Israeli representative of billionaire James Packer, on the night in 2015 that the recordings were made.
Among the statements he made: “Bro, you have to spot me. My dad made an awesome deal for your dad, bro. He fought, fought in the Knesset for this, bro” and “Bro, my dad just got you a $20 billion deal and you can’t spot me 400 shekels?” – about $116 US, to get into a strip club – and “If you want, I’ll fix you up with [Yair’s girlfriend at the time]. I have to fix her up with everyone, I’m paying off my debts.”
Yair Netanyahu responded to the recording in a statement issued after its broadcast, saying that “under the influence of alcohol, I spoke nonsense about women and other things that were better left unsaid.”
“These remarks do not reflect who I am, the values on which I was raised and my beliefs. I regret the remarks and apologize if anyone was hurt by them. In addition, the things I said to Maimon were a dumb joke and joking around with him, as anyone could tell. I never took an interest in the natural-gas framework agreement and never had any idea about its details,” the statement said.
A stripper told the Israeli TV show that she has since seen the younger Netanyahu a number of times at the strip club, adding that he was “escorted by security guards every time.”
“He has been going to strip clubs already for a number of years,” she said.
The natural gas deal approved at the end of 2015 gave two companies – Texas-based Noble Energy and Israel’s Delek Group – control over developing the two largest gas fields discovered in recent years. It was controversial and led to tension in the Knesset. Thousands of Israelis protested the move, which they likened to a corporate monopolization of a vital natural resource. Kobi Maimon is one of the main shareholders in the company that owns one of the gas fields.
On Tuesday, the prime minister found himself in the awkward position of having to stress that he and his wife raised their sons properly.
“My wife and I taught our children to respect any man and any woman. This is why I vehemently oppose the exclusion of women and act in many ways to empower women,” he said. “These are the values we believe in, and these are the values all Israeli children should be taught.”
Radio talk shows from all sides of the political spectrum exploded, with some condemning the Netanyahus for their son’s behaviour, some offering support to the family during a difficult time and others asking how the two Netanyahu brothers could be so different – Yair the bad boy while his older brother, Avner, is considered gentle and modest.
Yair Netanyahu has come under public scrutiny before. Last summer, a neighbour accused him of not cleaning up after his dog in public areas. After the story was distributed by a left-wing think tank, Yair subsequently trashed left-wing nongovernmental organizations on social media. (He was later sued by the think tank.) In September, he earned cheers from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke when he posted an anti-Semitic meme on his Facebook page without comment.
The leaked recording comes at a fraught time for the prime minister, as he remains the subject of two corruption investigations known as Case 1000 and Case 2000. In one of the investigations, he is accused of accepting expensive gifts from wealthy supporters, including cigars, champagne and jewelry, in exchange for advancing their interests. The second case alleges that Netanyahu arranged for more favourable coverage from the Israeli daily Yediot Acharonot in exchange for passing legislation that would harm the Sheldon Adelson-backed free daily Yisrael Hayom.
Opposition legislators quickly criticized the contents of the recording. The head of the opposition, Zionist Union head Avi Gabbay, questioned Yair Netanyahu’s friendship with Nir Maimon, saying it could have affected the negotiations over the gas deal. The prime minister has said he did not know that the sons were friends.
Former prime minister Ehud Barak, a former leader of the Labor Party, was harsh in a tweet on Monday evening.
“Mercy on the son. You can’t call him to get back on track, he probably was never there,” he said. “A narcissus (daffodil) that grew in the smelly swamp of corruption, with kickbacks from billionaires and made at the expense of Israeli citizens. The dark corruption calls out. Legally – it will continue. Morally – this is the end.”
Benjamin Netanyahu ended up calling the public release of the recording part of a “witch hunt,” echoing his past responses to the corruption probes.
In October, Yair Netanyahu said during a celebration of his father’s 68th birthday in the Knesset that he does not plan to become a politician, despite years of rumours to the contrary.
“I admire what you do for the nation and the land, but I will never enter politics,” he reportedly said.
After this controversy, that might not be up to him.