Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is in trouble, and it partly stems from his close relationship with Australia’s most recognisable billionaire, James Packer.
The country’s second longest-serving Prime Minister is facing potential charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust after an extensive investigation by Israeli police. They accuse Netanyahu of accepting nearly $US300,000 ($A380,000) in gifts over 10 years.
“Case 1000” which is also known as “Cigars and Champagne,” revolves around alleged bribery and paying for favours. Packer, along with Hollywood producer and former secret Israeli agent Arnon Milchan, are alleged to be those behind the payments.
It’s now up to the country’s Attorney General, Avichai Mendelblit, to decide whether the police evidence is strong enough to indict the Prime Minister.
Netanyahu does not deny accepting huge gifts from both men, but refutes allegations that he granted them any favours.
Milchan’s personal assistant, Hadas Klein, told Israeli police in November that, “there was an understanding that Arnon had to supply the Netanyahu couple with whatever they wanted. The cigars were requested by Netanyahu personally.”
The Prime Minister alleges that pink champagne and expensive jewellery requested by Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, were tokens of good friendship with Milchan.
Israeli police claim that Netanyahu pushed for the “Milchan law”, cutting taxes for returning Israelis who have spent time overseas, helped Milchan get a 10-year US visa and assisted the producer in furthering his film work. Israeli police have also recommended charging Milchan.
Packer’s relationship with the Netanyahu family is also under scrutiny (though he is not facing charges). According to testimony released by Israel’s Channel 10 in late 2017 after Packer spoke to Australian Federal Police agents in Australia on behalf of Israeli investigators, the casino mogul said: “I admire Prime Minister Netanyahu and am happy that I was given the opportunity to be his friend. I was happy to give him presents, many times at his request and his wife Sara’s request”.
At the time of the interview, a spokesman for Mr Packer’s Crown Resorts said: “There is no allegation of wrongdoing on Mr Packer’s behalf … The Israeli and Australian police have confirmed that he was interviewed as a witness, not a suspect.”
Netanyahu allegedly requested gifts and services from Packer worth up to $US100,000 including champagne, tickets to a Mariah Carey concert (Packer was previously engaged to the pop star) and cigars. Packer also showered Netanyahu’s son, Yair, with gifts including free accommodation at his luxury properties around the world.
Netanyahu responded that Packer was his “neighbour and friend” and “now and again, I asked him to bring me something to Israel from abroad”.
Netanyahu’s friendship with Packer reportedly began in 2014 when the Australian businessman met the Israeli leader at a dinner organised by Milchan and Packer. They apparently connected quickly and Packer soon purchased a multimillion dollar mansion in Israel beside a property owned by Netanyahu.
Packer accelerated his business interests in Israel’s cyber-security industry, saying in 2015 that he wanted to build a company with Milchan because, “Israel now has the highest start-ups per capita in the world and this will provide major opportunities in the future”.
Packer was with Netanyahu in the US Congress and UN General Assembly in 2015 when the Israeli Prime Minister slammed the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran. In the same year, Packer echoed Netanayhu’s hardline position, saying that it was “the stupidest thing I’ve seen in my life”.
Israel’s Interior Minister confirmed to the ABC in 2017 that he had met Packer’s lawyer to discuss possible residency and citizenship of Israel. Such a development would have significant tax advantages for Packer.
Case 2000 is another headache for Netanyahu. He’s accused of colluding with the publisher of one of Israel’s biggest newspapers, Yedioth Ahronoth. Caught on tape, the Israeli Prime Minister was telling its owner Arnon Mozes that he would convince his paper’s main competition, Israeli Hayom, owned by Las Vegas tycoon Sheldon Adelson, to reduce its circulation.
Netanyahu reportedly asked Mozes in return if he could get his publication to be less critical of the Prime Minister and his government. Netanyahu now says he wasn’t serious, but Adelson partially confirmed the allegation, telling Israeli police last year that Netanyahu had asked him not to expand his media outlet.
Adelson used to be Netanyahu’s biggest backer in his battles with the Palestinians and Obama administration, but that friendship appears to have cooled. Adelson is a key Donald Trump backer and reportedly encouraged the US President to move its embassy to Jerusalem and quash Palestinian nationalism for good.
Netanyahu denies all the allegations against him and continues to serve as the country’s Prime Minister.
He has been in a similar situation twice before, facing corruption allegations in 1997 and 2000, but both times he escaped being charged. Israel has a long history of former politicians being indicted for corruption including, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert who served time in prison for accepting bribes during his time as mayor of Jerusalem.
Columnist Anshel Pfeffer in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz writes that Netanyahu’s fatal flaw is that, “just like his belief in the cult of hasbara (or public diplomacy), and that if only Israel explains itself better to the world, everyone will be won over, he’s convinced that his image, as presented by the media, is the source of all his setbacks”.
Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist, author of Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe, and was based in Jerusalem in 2016/2017
Last Friday night in Melbourne, I interviewed Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters alongside Palestinian writer Randa Abdel-Fattah. The event was organised by the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network. Waters is in Australia on his massive “Us and Them” world tour (which I saw on Saturday night and it was one of the most spectacular music performances I’ve ever seen).
The Q&A was a unique public event, over 500 people attended, and we discussed the Middle East, Donald Trump, Palestine and his politics over decades. He was frank, funny and refreshingly down to earth. Unsurprisingly, Australian, pro-Israel politician Michael Danby condemned the event, including my involvement, but got both my names wrong in his press release.
Full video of the evening is coming soon but in the meantime here’s a story from popular music website, Noise 11:
Pink Floyd legend Roger Waters gave his time for the Australia Palestine Advocate Network in Melbourne on Friday and while explaining the issues between Palestine and Israel also took aim at a number of his fellow artists Elton John, Thom Yorke, Steven Tyler, Steve Van Zandt and Nick Cave.
Roger Waters has been working tirelessly since 2006 to try and bridge peace between Palestine and Israel after being confronted by Israeli fans at one of his concerts in Tel Aviv after calling on them to make peace with their neighbours 12 years ago.
Ever since he has campaigned for musicians to boycott performances in Israel and recently praised Lorde for doing so. However, he hasn’t had the same reaction from others.
In Melbourne, Roger Waters sat down for a Q&A for the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN).
During his talk for APAN Waters called Thom Yorke “a self-obsessed, narcissistic, drippy little prick” and Elton John ‘Queen Mum’. He also called out Nick Cave for saying he was bullying him, said “fuck you” to Steve Van Zandt and referred to Steven Tyler as “an old lady”.
Waters has been spreading the message to help mend the Middle East situation after that personal confrontation at his gig.
About Thom Yorke he said:
“Thom Yorke said that Ken Roach and I were throwing mud at him. No we weren’t. We were trying to engage him. I had a long email exchange with Thom Yorke and in the end he said ‘that’s it I’m giving up the music business, you have finally convinced me’. He was just being sarcastic. He is a prick. At least have a conversation. He is just a self-obsessed, narcissistic, drippy little prick”.
About Elton John:
Elton John went and played in Sun City about 500 times when everyone else in the world was anti-apartheid and said you can’t go and play in Sun City and he said ‘yeah I can, I’m the Queen Mum’. You kind of go, well he is just dopey and also he obviously doesn’t give a fuck about anybody else except the lesbian gay whatever whatever community which he does seem to care about. He will make videos protecting his one little area of people who are having violence done to them but he seems blind to (others). We are all human but some people are human in different ways.
About Little Steven
Little Steven, Steven Van Zandt from the E Street Band. He produced ‘Sun City’. I wrote to him and said ‘hey Steve, don’t you think it’s time we did one of these about Palestine because the situation is appalling. It is exactly the same situation it was in South Africa, it’s worse. He wrote me a letter back and said “I think the situation in Palestine is much more complicated and that turned into a threat. He said ‘I think you should be very careful about what you do and what you say because your career could be over in a heartbeat. I thought “fuck you”. This guy in his charlady hat is threatening me. He did say however he admired my courage and would love to have lunch so I wrote back and said “what about next Friday?” That was four years ago.
About Nick Cave
Your bloke, Cave. Gimme a break, was he really saying that his freedom of speech was being infringed? It doesn’t deserve an answer. I was co-signatory of all the letters sent to him. I didn’t speak to him personally. I don’t want to speak to him. I think it is pitiful to bring that up and say “I don’t want Roger Waters bullying me. I’m a musician, I just want to play my music”. What? They are shooting the fucking feet of 18-year-olds who want to play soccer. Don’t talk to me about your freedom of speech. Pay Attention”.
About Aerosmith and Steven Tyler
Aerosmith went to one of these training camps. What are they doing? What were they thinking? I ran into Steve Tyler in a sushi restaurant in LA and he leapt up to me. I thought, who is this, a little old lady? He had his hair up and I thought ‘oh God there’s a little old lady who wants to talk to me’ and it was Steven Tyler.
My film Disaster Capitalism, with director Thor Neureiter and co-producers Media Stockade, is screening publicly soon.
Last weekend I was interviewed by Hugh Riminton on Australia’s ABC Radio National Sunday Extra program about it:
When war or disaster strikes, we assume our aid contributions are life-saving, or at the very least will help rebuild countries and shattered communities. But some say trade works better than aid. Antony Loewenstein spent six years examining nations that have been pulled apart by conflict and disaster, and he’s produced ‘Disaster Capitalism’, a documentary currently being shown on limited release.
My film, Disaster Capitalism, with director Thor Neureiter and co-producers Media Stockade, is starting to screen this month (initially in Sydney and Melbourne with many more locations in Australia and globally to come).
I was interviewed today about the film on ABC Radio Australia’s Pacific Mornings program, broadcast across the entire Pacific region:
My book review in The Australian newspaper:
Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America
By Nancy MacLean
Scribe, $35, 368pp
As Hurricane Irma was pounding the US, President Donald Trump made a major announcement. He wanted huge tax cuts for the wealthiest members of society.
Standing alongside Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Trump said that, “I think now with what’s happened with the hurricane, I’m gonna ask for a speed-up.”
Most of the mainstream media virtually ignored the announcement, rightly focused on the catastrophic weather disaster. But as Nancy MacLean, the William Chafe professor of history and public policy at Duke University, writes in the introduction to this extremely timely book, there’s an “attempt by the billionaire radical right to undo democratic governance”, and Trump’s desires fit perfectly.
Despite running as a political outsider during his contest with Hillary Clinton, Trump has appointed more economic reactionaries from investment bank Goldman Sachs, senior executives at the heart of the 2008 global financial crisis, than presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama combined.
Defending his decision to surround himself with economic advisers he’d criticised a few months earlier, Trump said he wanted “great, brilliant business minds … so the world doesn’t take advantage of us … I love all people, rich or poor, but in those particular positions I just don’t want a poor person.”
Nobel prize-winning political economist James McGill Buchanan, a largely unknown man who inspired a generation of ultra-rich Americans that democracy was the enemy of progress, is the focus of MacLean’s investigation. Buchanan’s vision, pushed today by the billionaire Koch brothers, was designed to disenfranchise the bulk of the population because, as MacLean told US news show Democracy Now! in June, “democracy must be, in effect, shackled to prevent the majority will from being expressed because it would take too much from people of great wealth and that would be a problem for them”.
To understand the threat to democratic norms outlined by MacLean, along with the corrupting nature of opaque campaign financing by corporations and the mega-wealthy, one must appreciate the vision that’s being articulated with surprising success in the 21st century.
The Republican Party has been largely hijacked by individuals who loathe any form of compromise. Beyond that, they want “liberty”, and by that they mean the insulation of private property rights from the reach of government — and the takeover of what was long public (schools, prisons, western lands and much more) by corporations, a system that would radically reduce the freedom of the many.
Buchanan was born in Tennessee in 1919 and became a professor at George Mason University and other institutions across the US. In the age of mass segregation in US schools and the famous Supreme Court decision in 1954 — Brown v Board of Education proved that it was unconstitutional to have separate public schools for blacks and whites — Buchanan was on the wrong side of history. He worried about the government having any role in telling society how it should act. In an essay with fellow academic Warren Nutter, they stated that “every individual should be free to associate with persons of his own choosing”, a common phrasing used by segregationists.
The relationship between Buchanan and Charles Koch developed across decades. The establishment of the Cato Institute in the 1970s signalled a significant development in the evolution of their mutual hatred of government.
MacLean explains how the think tank has long had a “revolutionary” opposition to unions, intellectuals who back government intervention and corporations that crave benefits through lobbying.
Cato’s success has been across the political divide, though far stronger in the Republican Party, and pushed the American centre much further to the right. It’s no accident that such policies have led to profound economic distress for millions of Americans, at least partially explaining why many bought the lies of economic renewal sold to them by Trump.
The idea that the state should be made to almost disappear and private enterprise control all levels of society was why Buchanan became an enthusiastic supporter of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet (along with fellow economist Milton Friedman). He travelled to the country to help write its constitution. The torture and killings were clearly no impediment to his agenda of mass privatisation and austerity. It failed and the economy collapsed in 1982.
A key component of Buchanan’s thinking was an understanding that his policy proscriptions had to be imposed by stealth.
MacLean forensically examines why this was so necessary, in past decades and today, because the public would never approve of slow-motion privatisation and the eradication of public services. It’s why Trump and his allies could try to implement radical economic policies only during moments of societal distress or disaster. Using public shock is an opportunity too good to miss.
This book’s importance cannot be underestimated because countless policies advocated by all sides in politics today have their roots in Buchananism. From the privatisation of schools and prisons to the outsourcing of war and aid, MacLean warns that many leaders of the libertarian cause have “no scruples about enlisting white supremacy to achieve capital supremacy”.
This obviously applies to Trump but it’s simplistic to presume this problem can be solved by removing him or the Republican Party from power. Many Democrats, along with the mainstream capitalist, political class across the world in Australia, Europe and Britain, share the same goal: societies with a minimal safety net.
MacLean shows us the roots of this pernicious ideology in this powerful and disturbing book but questions whether the forces marshalled against it are strong enough to defeat it.
Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist and author of Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing Out of Catastrophe. He is writing a book on the global war on drugs.
Gideon Levy is one of Israel’s most outspoken journalists. He’s been writing for decades in Israeli newspaper Haaretz about the devastating effects of the never-ending Israeli occupation of Palestine.
I first met Gideon in Tel Aviv in 2005 when I was researching my first book, My Israel Question.
Since then, he’s become an inspiration for daring to reveal the dark side of Israeli society and what it’s supporting in the West Bank and Gaza.
He recently toured Australia, and received extensive media coverage (on the public broadcaster ABC), and I was privileged to speak alongside him at Sydney University. It was one of the biggest Sydney Ideas events of the year, with nearly 500 people present.
My comments begin at 50:07 and then a Q&A with Gideon.
Here’s the audio:
And the video:
US President Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem is unsurprising and clarifying. It proves, once and for all, that Washington will only do the bidding of the Jewish state.
I was interviewed on Australian news program The Wire about the move:
Access and ownership of Jerusalem have been a hot issue for decades after its occupation by Israel. Peace talks have stalled multiple times and Donald Trump has thrown a spanner in the works once more.
The US President recently announced his intentions to move the US Embassy into Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. Which has caused condemnation from other political leaders and protests in the streets. The consequences of his actions could be felt for years.
In the last months, I’ve been a judge on a great literary prize, Fair Australia, organised by Overland magazine:
What does a fairer world look like, and how do we get there? The Fair Australia Prize asks writers and artists to engage with these questions and imagine a new political agenda for Australia through fiction, essays, poetry, cartoons and art.
Many thanks to the 2017 judges – Michalia Arathimos, Jennifer Down, Emma Kerin, Antony Loewenstein, Godfrey Moase, Jacinda Woodhead, Ellen van Neerven, Toby Fitch, Carina Garland, Sam Wallman, Cathy Wilcox and Sam Davis – and to all the writers and artists who submitted entries this year. Note: the competition will reopen in 2018.
Overland, the National Union of Workers, the Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance, and the National Tertiary Education Union (VIC) are very pleased to announce the winning entries of this year’s prize, which will be published in Overland’s final edition of the year, to be launched Monday 11 December in Melbourne.
The fine winner of the essay section that I co-judged:
A snapshot of Albert Namatjira is a window into the injustices befalling Indigenous Australians, who are still denied a voice in determining their destiny in contemporary Australia.
Julian Bull studied natural resources management and landscape architecture at the Universities of Adelaide and Melbourne. His numerous articles on landscape architecture, urban design and art have been published in Australia and overseas.
After 6+ years in the making, my film, Disaster Capitalism, is finished. Working with director Thor Neureiter, co-producers Media Stockade and co-editor Leah Donovan, it’s been the most challenging creative project of my life. But here we are with a fine film.
Disaster Capitalism is a compelling documentary that goes inside Afghanistan, Haiti and Papua New Guinea to reveal the dark side of moneymakers and aid exploiters unafraid to make a killing from the misfortune of others.
In 2018, the film will be screened around the world, at film festivals, public screenings and TV broadcast (our French/US distributor has already secured a sale with a European TV broadcaster).
Thanks to the countless people in multiple nations for giving us so much encouragement and support over the last years.
We look forward to showing you this timely film next year.
Here’s the trailer:
I’m currently working on a new, investigative book on the global “war on drugs” covering vast parts of the world consumed by the drug war (from Honduras to West Africa). It’ll be published by Scribe in Australia, the UK and beyond in 2019.
This week I was interviewed by the US podcast, Bitcoin Uncensored, on this book, what my research has taught me so far, what legalisation/decriminalisation looks like etc. And yes, the words are out of sync (technical issues):
The Melbourne Press Club periodically inducts journalists into its Hall of Fame.
I was asked to write the profile and be interviewed about John Pilger, one of Australia’s most famous journalistic exports:
During his acceptance speech for the Sydney Peace Prize in 2009, Australian journalist, author and film-maker John Pilger articulated a worldview that he has vociferously opposed during a career spanning more than 50 years. “Democracy has become a business plan,” he said, “with a bottom line for every human activity, every dream, every decency, every hope. The main parliamentary parties are now devoted to the same economic policies – socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor – and the same foreign policy of servility to endless war.”
Pilger’s decades-long work in print and television has transformed him into one of the most successful and awarded Australian journalists in the modern era, yet this has not brought him universal praise from his media colleagues or a profession that often prefers safe insiders and embedded “realities”. Pilger is too confrontational towards state power and his industry to be widely adored and he embraces being the eternal dissident.
In the introduction to a 2004 collection of fine investigative journalism from around the world, Tell Me No Lies, edited by Pilger, he warned that the proliferation of public relations forced reporters to take an even more adversarial position towards governments and corporate power. Political and historical context is everything and Pilger rightly demanded more discussion about the “hundreds of illegal [American] ‘covert operations’, many of them bloody” that have denied political and economic self-determination to much of the world.
Pilger has spent years visiting the sites of these often silent wars, genocides and occupations from East Timor to Palestine and Australia to Vietnam. He has never been a cheerleader for “our” side and his journalism is stronger because of it.
In his classic 1986 book, Heroes, Pilger wrote that he had “grown up in one of the most fortunate cities on earth”. Born in Sydney in 1939 to socialist parents Elsie and Claude, he was brought up in Bondi and developed a love of swimming that continued his entire life. With a working class background, his journalism career began as a copy boy on the now defunct Sydney Sun newspaper.
As a cadet on Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, Pilger soon discovered what he viewed as the dark heart of modern journalism. Writing in Heroes, he explained that “writing one thing and believing another was the way the system worked and to do otherwise was to risk not working at all.” He lamented many young journalists expressing “fake cynicism towards their craft, their readers and themselves.” It wasn’t surprising that he soon left the parochial shores of Sydney and followed the exodus of Australians to London.
Working as a journalist on the Daily Mirror, Pilger often found himself on the frontline of history. He witnessed the 1968 assassination of Robert Kennedy in Los Angeles. His critical reporting during the Vietnam War, including his first TV documentary in 1970, The Quiet Mutiny, documented declining morale within the US military for the bloody conflict.
His 1979 film, Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia, exclusively revealed the devastation of that nation’s people after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. Massive public reaction to the documentary led to millions of aid dollars being raised for the growing famine. Pilger didn’t just blame the genocidal Khmer Rouge for the catastrophe but also Washington for illegally bombing the state and creating the environment for the mass murderers to take power.
In his book, Distant Voices in 1992, Pilger recounted arriving in Phnom Penh in 1979 and “taking no photographs; incredulity saw to that. I had no sense of people, of even the remnants of a population; the first human shapes I glimpsed seemed incoherent shapes, detached from the city itself.” Pilger’s work on Cambodia was inarguably some of his most successful and he made five films about the country.
Pilger has long shone a harsh light on his birth country’s indigenous population. In his 1998 book, Hidden Agendas, he explained that “until we white Australians give back to the first Australians their nationhood, we can never claim our own.” Pilger has made many documentaries about Australia including Utopia, released in 2013. It was a scathing examination of the black population that remains invisible to the vast majority of Australians and the world. He showed desolate living conditions and apartheid-South African level incarceration rates for the nation’s first peoples.
Pilger has been routinely criticised for lacking objectivity, a concept he has dismissed for decades as the position of corporate journalists who routinely forget that they should be reporting on and defending the most marginalised citizens in society rather than siding or socialising with prime ministers, presidents and officials. He has been unapologetic about his defence of Wikileaks’ Julian Assange along with his criticism of liberal heroes such as Barack Obama. Noam Chomsky has called Pilger’s journalism “a beacon of light in often dark times.”
Upon winning the Order of Timor-Leste in 2017, in recognition of his work advocating for the East Timorese people during the Indonesian military occupation backed by Washington, London and Canberra, Pilger showed why he’s one of the best advocates for the forgotten. “Australia owes Timor Leste a huge debt, some would say, billions of dollars in reparations”, he said. “Australia should hand over, unconditionally, all royalties collected since [former Australian Foreign Minister] Gareth Evans toasted Suharto’s dictatorship while flying over the graves of its victims.”
Still engaged and angry in his seventh decade, Pilger is a rare journalist who has never sold out and never curbed his views to accommodate corporate donors. It’s no wonder officialdom has loathed him for decades yet readers and viewers across the world have often embraced his message.
Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist who has written for the Guardian, New York Times and many other publications. He is author of My Israel Question and Disaster Capitalism: Making A Killing Out Of Catastrophe and writer and co-producer of the documentary, Disaster Capitalism.