Netanyahu vs. the Media:
the Amadi Affair


Friday, September 17, 1999


An intense political melee has erupted in Israel over the police
investigation of former Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his wife,
Sara, on suspicion of taking bribes and misusing public funds during
Netanyahu's three-year term of office.

The latest turmoil centers on allegations that the investigation is
politically driven and that police sources leaked information to the press
in "real time," while the Netanyahu's were still being questioned under
caution for eight hours by police on Wednesday.

An official investigation was launched this week after an article in YEDIOT
AHARONOT charged that a wide range of services provided over four years by
a Jerusalem contractor, Avner Amedi, to the Netanyahus went unpaid. The
leading Israeli daily reported that after Mr. Netanyahu lost the recent
elections, Amedi submitted a bill for NIS 440,000.

The Netanyahu's answered questions relating to the uncompensated work
carried out by Amedi over four years at the official prime minister's
residence on Rehov Balfour in Jerusalem and the couple's private home
nearby on Rehov Aza. Although accurate details of the affair are difficult
to ascertain at present, police are investigating whether they received
bribes from Amedi in exchange for favors, and whether Mr. Netanyahu
attempted to have the state pay for work done at their private residence.

The police investigation began on Monday, when Shimon Stein, the legal
adviser at the Prime Minister's Office, gave testimony. Amedi was arrested
and questioned, along with his wife, on Tuesday on suspicion of fraud and
presenting inflated invoices. Ezra Seidof, in charge of housekeeping at the
Prime Minister's residence, was questioned the same day. Uri Elitzur,
etanyahu's former bureau chief, was questioned Wednesday, along with the

While dozens of their supporters gathered outside the police station in Bat
Yam on Wednesday afternoon, the Netanyahus were subjected to over 8 hours
of questions in separate rooms inside. Media reports gave details of the
interrogation even while it was still in progress, saying, for example,
that Sara Netanyahu had broke down in tears on several occasions and that
the couple gave conflicting testimony to that of Amedi and his wife, Aliza.

The apparent leaks by police involved in the inquiry triggered a backlash
of criticism from the Likud camp over the professional lapses and political
motives behind the investigation.

"The leaks are a serious blow to the Netanyahus' civil rights," Likud
leader Ariel Sharon told ISRAEL RADIO. In a later statement, Sharon said he
"hopes and believes" the Netanyahu family will be fully exonerated, adding
that "the wicked leaks during the interrogation are a severe blow to human
dignity and freedom."

MK Yuval Steinitz of Likud accused the media of engaging in a "witch-hunt,"
while fellow Likud MK Ruby Rivlin called on Internal Security Minister
Shlomo Ben-Ami to put an end to the leaks to the media while the
investigation is under way.

Likud director-general Uri Shani said he could understand the "rage" of
party loyalists at the "character assassination to which the former prime
minister is being subjected."

Former prime ministerial aides and MK's Dan Naveh and Avigdor Lieberman
also issued sharp protests, with Lieberman, now leader of the Yisrael
Beiteinu party, decrying the "incessant leaks from the interrogation rooms
of the Israel Police," which he labelled "systematic criminal behavior."

Members of the Labor-led Barak government shot back in defense of the
investigation. Ben Ami, who is away on official business in Spain, told
ISRAEL RADIO, "The party under investigation right now is not the police,
but Mr. Netanyahu. The police are doing their professional work. I'm
convinced that there is no political agenda."

Ben-Ami did promise to take a serious look into the charges of police leaks
once he returns, and expressed his personal hopes that the Netanyahus would
be cleared of any wrongdoing. When asked how details of the police
inquiries of the Netanyahus made it into the media, he responded that much
of the reported facts were incorrect.

Justice Minister Yossi Beilin was adamant in rebutting charges of police
leaks, saying "This is just saber-rattling... What we have here is nothing
less than an attempt to undermine the foundations of law and order which we
depend upon. Who really knows whether there were leaks? Does anyone really
have proof of this? I read three different accounts by three different
reporters regarding the news item that some of the witnesses contradicted
each other during police questioning."

The country's top two law enforcement officials issued a joint press
communique' on Thursday denying allegations that the investigation is
politically motivated and cautioning against blaming police for leaking
information. Attorney-General Elyakim Rubinstein and State Attorney Edna
Arbel said the inquiry was objective and professional, but they were
somewhat more circumspect about the alleged leaks.

"We want to emphasize that, according to the police command, reports about
this investigation did not emanate from the police, and the police intend
to publish the facts regarding this matter," the joint statement read. "We
raised the issues of reports connected to the investigation, which, as a
rule, must be avoided... Improper reports, wherever they come from, cause
harm to the investigation, the reputation of the police and particularly
the suspects, who are innocent until proven guilty."

Police spokesmen also denied any leaks or collusion with the press, and
said the Netanyahus probably will be summoned for questioning again. Moshe
Leon, the former director-general of the Prime Minister's Office, is also
expected to be summoned for questioning when he returns from abroad next week.

Police said they hope to complete the investigation as soon as possible and
hand over the results to the State Attorney's Office for a decision on
whether to issue any indictments in the case.

Shimon Stein, the legal adviser to the Prime Minister's Office who refused
to pay a bill submitted by Amedi, said he had earlier sent Arbel full
details and invoices and asked her to review the matter, but she chose not
to pursue them. Arbel, however, told reporters she had requested more
information from Stein, but he never responded.

Meanwhile, Amedi's lawyer, Eitan Tzahi, threatened last night that his
client would sue the Netanyahus for the NIS 440,000 he feels he is owed for
the work.

Netanyahu's attorney, Ya'acov Weinroth, told ISRAEL TV CHANNEL 1 that the
couple planned to pay Amedi and asked for bills, but when they saw such a
large sum, with unclear stipulations regarding the nature of the work
carried out, they didn't agree.

The Knesset's State Control Committee will meet next Tuesday with the state
comptroller to discuss recent "grave failures in police investigations and
police ethics." Committee Chair Uzi Landau of Likud said he now plans to
add the Netanyahu case to the agenda, saying that the police, by their
actions, "are taking part in a public lynching."

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