Battered by scandal, Netanyahu still poised for re-election
By JOSEF FEDERMAN
Friday, March 1
JERUSALEM (AP) — Just over a month before elections, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks more vulnerable than ever.
Following a dramatic announcement Thursday by Israel’s attorney general, Netanyahu almost certainly faces indictment on corruption charges in the coming months. His main challenger leads him in the polls, and he is taking heat even from his supporters for forming an alliance with a racist ultranationalist party.
But when the dust settles after the April 9 vote, the person most likely to emerge as prime minister remains Netanyahu, thanks to a devoted base of supporters and a public that tends to agree with his world view.
Still, a Netanyahu victory is far from certain, and his ability to rule effectively if he does win will be limited.
Here is a look at what lies ahead for the Israeli leader:
WHAT HAPPENED THIS WEEK?
Capping an investigation that began over two years ago, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced his intention on Thursday to indict Netanyahu on corruption charges in a series of scandals.
The most serious charge is bribery, for allegedly promoting regulatory changes that helped Shaul Elovitch, the head of telecom giant Bezeq, reap a hefty financial windfall. In exchange, Elovitch allegedly had Bezeq’s popular news site, Walla, publish favorable items about Netanyahu and his family, while promoting negative coverage of some of Netanyahu’s rivals.
Perhaps the most embarrassing charge involves breach of trust, for allegedly accepting some $300,000 worth of champagne and cigars as gifts from billionaire friends. The revelations reinforced Netanyahu’s image as a hedonist with expensive tastes and a propensity for letting others pick up the tab.
While a sitting Israeli prime minister has never been this close to indictment before, Netanyahu is not obligated to resign at this stage. The planned indictment is still subject to a hearing, during which Netanyahu can plead his case before formal charges are filed. This process is expected to take up to a year to complete.
That means Netanyahu can continue to lead his Likud Party into elections, even with a cloud of scandal over his head.
HOW CAN NETANYAHU WIN?
Like his good friend Donald Trump, Netanyahu enjoys the staunch support of a loyal base that has remained firmly behind him during the past few years of police investigations. In addition, lawmakers in Netanyahu’s Likud Party have lined up behind him. Thursday’s announcement by Mandelblit is unlikely to change that.
Responding to the attorney general’s recommendations, Netanyahu sounded much like Trump, accusing prosecutors, police, the media and his “leftist” opponents of conspiring to oust him. This is a theme that plays well with the base and that he will likely continue to sound throughout the campaign.
Under Israel’s political system, the politician who has the best chance of building a majority coalition is chosen to be prime minister.
Even with all his troubles, Netanyahu and his political allies, a mixture of hard-line religious and nationalist parties, appear to be best positioned to form the next parliamentary coalition, reflecting a broader shift toward the right in public opinion over the past two decades.
SO WHAT COULD GO WRONG?
Netanyahu, who is seeking a fourth consecutive term, faces a challenger unlike any he has seen before.
Political newcomer Benny Gantz, a popular former military chief, has surged in opinion polls with a message stressing his army background — an essential credential in security-obsessed Israel — along with an untarnished image.
Gantz’s partnership with Yair Lapid, another popular centrist figure, has been welcomed by the public, and their new “Blue and White” alliance has jumped ahead of Likud in opinion polls.
Netanyahu has also come under heavy criticism, even from allies like the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC, for an alliance struck with the political heirs of the “Kach” movement, banned in Israel and the U.S. for its racist ideology.
Even so, polls forecast an extremely tight race in which Gantz could struggle to cobble together a majority coalition with his centrist and leftist allies, particularly if Arab parties, which have never sat in government, are excluded.
Gantz is now likely to turn the remaining weeks of the campaign into a referendum on Netanyahu’s character. On Thursday, Gantz called on Netanyahu to resign while he fights his legal battle.
“Unfortunately, today you chose a path that isn’t befitting a prime minister of Israel,” Gantz said. “Instead of choosing the good of the country, you chose your own well-being. It’s the wrong choice and one we must be a part of.”
The picture will become clearer in the coming days as opinion polls indicate whether support for Netanyahu has eroded.
In order to win, Gantz will have to lure moderate Likud supporters who may be willing to give a more centrist candidate a chance to govern. If Gantz can maintain a solid lead, he will likely be given the first crack at putting together a coalition.
Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, an independent think tank, said such a scenario isn’t impossible.
“I don’t expect any dramatic shift in public opinion,” said Plesner, a former centrist lawmaker. “But even a relatively small shift of a few percentage points moving from bloc to bloc can make a significant difference in the election.”
WHAT IF HE WINS?
If Netanyahu ekes out a victory, he will face persistent questions about his ability to govern.
His legal troubles will provide both a major distraction and a potential conflict of interest. Netanyahu’s job includes professional consultations with the same bodies that are prosecuting him.
Any major decision, including domestic legislation, military action or diplomatic activity, will raise questions about Netanyahu’s motives. This will be an important concern if Trump’s Mideast team follows through on its promise to release a peace plan after the election. Netanyahu’s ability to maneuver will likely be hampered.
“Mandelblit’s decision is not yet the final indictment. But it is a new millstone hung around Netanyahu’s neck, a weight no previous Israeli prime minister has ever experienced,” wrote Anshel Pfeffer, a columnist for the Haaretz daily and author of a recent biography about Netanyahu.
“He will now have to carry it around wherever he goes, and it will drag him down,” Pfeffer wrote.
Isabel DeBre contributed to this report.
We knew George Pell was guilty of child sex abuse. Why couldn’t we say it until now?
February 26, 2019
Anyone could easily discover Pell’s charges despite the suppression order – so what’s the point?
Michael Douglas, Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Western Australia
Jason Bosland, Deputy Director of the Centre for Media and Communications Law at Melbourne Law School, University of Melbourne
Disclosure statement: Michael Douglas is a consultant at Bennett + Co, a law firm which has acted on matters relating to open justice. He is a member of the ALP. Jason Bosland is a member of the Advisory Committee of the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s current Inquiry on Contempt of Court.
Partners: University of Melbourne and University of Western Australia provide funding as founding partners of The Conversation AU. Victoria State Government provides funding as a strategic partner of The Conversation AU.
Cardinal George Pell, Australia’s most-senior Catholic, one of the most powerful Catholics in the world and a man once praised by Tony Abbott as a “fine man”, molested two choirboys in the 1990s.
On 11 December 2018, a jury found Pell guilty of one charge of sexually penetrating a child under the age of 16, as well as four charges of an indecent act with a child under the age of 16. He did this when he was Archbishop of Melbourne. The incidents took place at St Patrick’s Cathedral.
The verdict and the proceedings that led to it were subject to blanket ban suppression orders, which prohibited any reporting on proceedings involving Pell. Today those orders were lifted.
But today’s story has been a long time coming.
In December, a number of Australia’s leading news organisations published headlines about the Pell verdict without mentioning him by name. They referred to “the nation’s biggest story” while carefully, yet begrudgingly, providing no details.
Less reputable corners of the internet were spilling the beans too. #Pell was trending on Twitter and on the front page of Reddit in Australia.
An Australian could easily find foreign news coverage of the matter on Google. So what’s the point of the suppression order at all?
The Pell trials
The verdict came after a trial, which was described as the “cathedral trial”, in Victoria’s County Court.
An earlier 2018 trial on the same charges as the cathedral trial resulted in a hung jury. The retrial began in November and the conviction followed in December.
Pell was also facing a separate jury trial – known as the “swimmers trial” – in respect to different events. That trial would have dealt with alleged child sexual offences at a swimming pool in Ballarat in the 1970s.
Last Friday, evidence prosecutors were relying on for the swimmers trial was deemed inadmissible. As a result, the swimmers trial will now not proceed.
Why the public isn’t allowed to know specifics about the George Pell case
The end of the swimmers trial means the suppression orders are no longer needed. But there is still information that hasn’t been made public.
We still don’t know the identity of a survivor of Pell’s crimes whose evidence was key to Pell’s conviction in the cathedral trial. Through his lawyer, that man has asked for privacy. He deserves it. Sadly, the other former choirboy died in 2014.
The tension between the survivor’s position, and the public’s interest in understanding the full horror of Pell’s crimes and hypocrisy, demonstrates how Australian law strikes a balance between open justice and other values.
Open justice and suppression orders
The principle of open justice is summed up by the idea that “justice should not only be done but should be seen to be done”. It is a fundamental principle of our legal system.
But it is not an absolute principle. Courts have various powers to depart from open justice by closing proceedings to the public, concealing information from those present in court, or by prohibiting or otherwise restricting publication of material.
A “suppression order” is a kind of court order that prevents people from reporting on court proceedings. In Pell’s case, the suppression orders were made under section 17 and section 18(1)(a) of Victoria’s Open Courts Act 2013.
The court decided it was “necessary to prevent a real and substantial risk of prejudice to the proper administration of justice that [could not] be prevented by other reasonably available means”.
When a fair trial could be at risk, suppression is the order of the day
A misconception is that the suppression orders were sought to protect Pell’s reputation, or that of the Catholic Church. Although that may have been an indirect result of the suppression orders, that is not why they were made.
The orders were sought by the prosecutors to protect the integrity of the swimmers trial.
They were made under legislation from Victoria. Other parts of Australia deal with open justice differently. But courts in every state have principles that share the common value that the administration of justice may justify suppressing information in certain cases.
A fundamental democratic value is that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Media reporting on Pell’s case may have resulted in “prejudicial publicity”, undermining the neutrality of the jury system, and so undermining the integrity of a conviction.
The concern was that reporting of the cathedral trial by the media would have had the effect of prejudicing the impartiality of the jury in the subsequent swimmers trial (were it to go ahead).
An unusual case?
In Victoria, blanket ban suppression orders are often made when an accused is facing multiple criminal trials. In this sense, the Pell suppression orders were not unusual. However, such orders appear to be less common in other Australian jurisdictions.
Today’s story was a long time coming.
In a recent judgment of the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal, Nationwide News Pty Limited v Qaumi, it was observed that a back-to-back trial is an “exceptional case”. Nevertheless, in rare circumstances, the continued suppression of information of a first trial might be justified to protect a second trial.
The outrage surrounding the Pell suppression orders should be understood against this backdrop. But there are still things to be concerned about.
The public should be told why this case was suppressed
Given the current misconceptions about the purpose of the suppression orders in the Pell trials, the public ought to be provided with a set of written reasons explaining why the court decided they were justified.
Courts have a duty to provide reasons for their decisions. This duty flows from the principle of open justice.
The public is more likely to have confidence in an open and transparent system of justice. The rule of law works best if society believes the law is being applied fairly.
The court’s written reasons for suppression in the Pell trials – if they exist – should be easily available to the public to aid their understanding of this case.
Suppression in the digital age
Journalists who ignored the court’s order now face serious consequences. They could be “found in contempt” for disobeying the court. It has been reported as many as 100 journalists are in the firing line.
A person found guilty of contempt could face imprisonment, or fines, or both. Recent experience suggests Australian courts are willing to flex their muscles over people who disobey suppression orders. For instance, in 2017, blogger Shane Dowling was sent to jail for refusing to remove identifying information about alleged affairs.
But Australian courts, like those of other places, do not have authority over the entire world. The court’s jurisdiction – its “authority to decide” – is limited by geography. In a practical sense, Australian courts don’t have authority over foreign journalists based overseas. Enforcement of an order against international media organisations without a presence in Australia would be extremely difficult, if not impossible.
You wouldn’t read about it: Adrian Bayley rape trials expose flaw in suppression orders
Where an order can’t be backed up with a threat of physical force, you might call it futile. Such orders have been called “paper tigers”. To put it another way: a court should not bark unless it can bite.
The Pell trials illustrate how attempts by courts to control the dissemination of news in Australia may be rendered futile by foreign press, social media, and old-fashioned word of mouth.
As one journalist said:
The idea that one judge in a Melbourne court could really define what the world can read about a figure of such global significance I think is a real shock to the world.
However, it is rare for an Australian suppression order to be rendered futile by the global media market. Most cases where suppression orders are granted are only of interest to local media. Media organisations generally comply with these orders and the vast majority are effective.
In this case, although it was a pain in the neck for journalists, arguably, the suppression order achieved its purpose. The sanctity of Pell’s swimmers trial was protected. Every Australian should be entitled to a fair trial.
The laws that suppressed Pell’s guilty verdict are under review. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews vowed to overhaul the state’s approach to suppression orders, implementing many recommendations of a recent review of the 2013 Open Courts Act.
Although other states don’t share Victoria’s act, it would be sensible for the whole of Australia to revisit the circumstances in which courts prohibit access to information and hold individuals in contempt. Courts should be open as much as possible.
Political philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, once wrote that “publicity is the very soul of justice”. The message echoes in 2019 with the slogan, “Democracy Dies in the Darkness”. Now Pell’s guilt is out in the open, we can finally see that justice has been done.
Venezuelan vice president visits Moscow to rally support
By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV
Friday, March 1
MOSCOW (AP) — Venezuela’s vice president is visiting Russia, voicing hope for stronger ties with Moscow amid the U.S. pressure.
Delcy Rodriguez said after Friday’s talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov that Venezuela will rely on supplies of food and medicines from Russia as it faces a U.S.-led blockade and hold the door open for more Russian investments.
Lavrov reaffirmed strong support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and criticized the U.S. for waging a “cynical campaign aimed at ousting the legitimate government of Venezuela.” He strongly warned Washington against military intervention.
He charged that the U.S. is planning to purchase firearms, mortars and portable air defense missiles in eastern Europe and deliver them next to Venezuelan borders in preparation for arming the opposition.
Russia’s top diplomat added that Venezuela’s neighbors Brazil and Colombia are against U.S. military intervention, voicing hope that it “would cool the hot heads in Washington.”
Lavrov accused the U.S. and its allies of using economic sanctions and asset freezes to provoke a humanitarian crisis in the South American country.
He said that Russia has delivered a humanitarian aid shipment to Venezuela and will provide more such assistance. Lavrov also noted Russian grain shipments to Venezuela.
The Russian foreign minister hailed Maduro for his “constructive” openness for dialogue with the opposition and criticized Juan Guaido , the head of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled congress who has declared himself interim president, for his “destructive and confrontational” stance.
Rodriguez said that Venezuela has decided to move the European office of the state-run PDVSA oil company from Lisbon to Moscow.
“Europe can’t give us the necessary guarantees, because the capitalist world violates its own laws,” she said, protesting the freeze of Venezuelan assets in the U.S. and Britain.
Venezuela: region’s infectious crisis is a disaster of hemispheric proportions
February 22, 2019
Author: Martin Llewellyn, Senior Lecturer, Institute of Biodiversity Animal Health & Comparative Medicine, University of Glasgow
Disclosure statement: Martin Llewellyn does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: University of Glasgow provides funding as a member of The Conversation UK.
Over the last two decades, Venezuela has entered a deep socioeconomic and political crisis. Once recognised as a regional leader for public health and disease control, Venezuela’s healthcare and health research infrastructure has fallen into a state of collapse, creating a severe humanitarian crisis and a major outbreak of infectious disease.
This week, we published the first comprehensive assessment of the vector-borne disease outbreak that is assailing the country. Vector-borne diseases are those spread by insects – mosquitos, sand flies, kissing bugs and others. The “we” is a global consortium of authors, many of whom are Venezuelan doctors and academics working in the country under exceptionally difficult conditions. Others include Colombian, Brazilian and Ecuadorian academics who are witnessing the crisis unfold: Venezuelan refugees on the streets of their cities, diseases (malaria, Chagas disease, measles, diphtheria) spreading through porous land borders, and regional disease outbreaks of unprecedented proportions.
I first travelled to Venezuela in the early 2000s to study Chagas disease, a single-celled parasite spread by the kissing bug, a blood-sucking insect that infests the walls of adobe houses. Chagas disease is a silent killer. Once infected, the parasite can lie dormant for decades in its human host before causing fatal heart disease in middle age.
You can’t travel to Venezuela, including to the communities where I worked in the Llanos (plains) of the west, without being entranced by the beauty of the landscape and the friendliness of its people. From the laboratory in the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Caracas, where I was taken under the wing of Professor Hernan Carrasco and his team, dancing salsa between the benches on a Friday night, to the villages where we slept under the stars in hammocks while the inhabitants sang joropo music, it is a thoroughly welcoming place.
Venezuela is also a place of extreme inequality. You only have to look up from the glitzy streets of downtown Caracas to the mud and brick ranchos clustered on the hillsides above to appreciate that. It is this inequality that drove the socialist revolution, and while times were good – and oil prices high – much of Venezuela’s wealth found its way into the hands of those who needed it most. Declining oil prices, corruption and mismanagement have changed all that. Alongside economic collapse has come a collapse in basic healthcare, an exodus of medical professionals, and a massive upsurge in disease.
At the core of the infectious disease crisis in Venezuela is the lack of reliable data. Either through denial, a lack of resource, or both, the Venezuelan state is reneging on its responsibility to report on the extent of current outbreaks. The purpose of our recent review was to draw together fragmented information from Venezuelan civil societies, researchers, international organisations and neighbouring countries to get the best estimate of what is actually going on. Over 400,000 cases of malaria in 2017, 15% of the rural population infected with Chagas disease, surging dengue, Chikungunya and Zika infections. The picture is grim.
Health is highly politicised in Venezuela and working as a researcher is not without risk. My collaborators have been threatened with jail and having their medical licenses suspended simply for reporting outbreaks in the scientific literature. The Institute of Tropical Medicine where I worked has been raided by colectivos (community organisations that supports the Venezuelan government), microscopes smashed, medical records destroyed, hard drives ripped out of computers.
The centre of the current malaria epidemic in southeastern Bolivar state is also the centre of state-sponsored illegal gold mining in Venezuela. The tonnes of gold recently shipped by the Maduro regime to Russia and Turkey is soaked in the sweat and blood of poor Venezuelans, sleeping with their families beside mosquito-infested mining pits. Drawing attention to this malaria epidemic is drawing attention to the ecological and humanitarian disaster in this region where mercury is polluting pristine rivers and thousands are dying for want of antimalarial drugs that the government will not or, more likely, cannot supply.
Venezuelans are resilient and resourceful people. The Venezuelan researchers still living and working in the country are a testament to that, as is the support they receive from the diaspora of Venezuelans forced to live abroad. In recognising the regional aspect to the crisis, the spillover of disease in the region and the millions of refugees, we hope our review will galvanise international organisations to act. I’m optimistic that we are reaching a turning point in a crisis ten years in the making. I fervently hope the spirit of Venezuelans will break through. I hope that scientists will dance salsa again – and soon.