by Yochanan Visser
AG's decision to indict PM Netanyahu may threaten the health of Israel's democracy. Israel cannot afford to choose the wrong PM.
Speaking a few hours after Israel's Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced that he would indict Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu on charges of breaches of trust and bribery in three different cases known as Case 1000, Case 2000 and Case 4000, the Israeli PM highlighted his successful visit to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Netanyahu then went on talking about the Iranian entrenchment in Syria before telling the Israeli public that Mandelblit’s decision to indict him was nothing more than an orchestrated attempt to influence the upcoming elections.
“The Left knows they cannot compete with these achievements in the voting booth, so they put massive pressure on the attorney-general to indict even though there is nothing, in order to influence the elections and put the Left in charge,” the second-longest serving Israeli PM said referring to the many achievements under his leadership.
Netanyahu repeatedly used the word "witch hunt" to describe the relentless 'anyone but Bibi' campaign by his opponents and the Israeli TV broadcasters which dates back to the moment he returned to the Prime Minister office in March 2009.
"I am not being given the chance to disprove [the accusations] until after the election - and I will disprove them all," Netanyahu fumed while claiming his family had gone through "seven circles of hell" since the start of the campaign against him.
By now, virtually every pundit, politician and analyst in Israel and abroad has commented on Mandelblit’s unprecedented decision with former Jerusalem Post editor in chief and current New York Times columnist Bret Stephens predicting Netanyahu will go down in history like former US President Richard Nixon.
While admitting that the indictment doesn’t necessarily mean Netanyahu is guilty and acknowledging he has been "a remarkably effective Prime Minister" who has had "considerable success in foreign policy, economy and defense," Stephens nevertheless came to the conclusion that "the reign of King Bibi has gone on long enough."
His article scantly addressed the legal aspects of the controversial indictments and Stephens sounded a lot like the left-wing Israelis I recently interviewed about Netanyahu’s premiership.
They told me that the Knesset should adopt a law that would limit the premiership in Israel to two terms. Why? Because they hate Netanyahu.
That was before Mandelblit succumbed to the pressure of leftist activists who every week demonstrated opposite his home and even chased after him during prayers in his synagogue in Petach Tikva.
Netanyahu called Mandelblit "weak" and predicted that the indictments were "a house of cards that would collapse."
Avraham Bell, a renowned Israeli expert in the field of law and professor at Bar Ilan University and the University of San Diego, seemed to concur.
Bell fears that Mandelblit’s decision will permanently damage the Israeli law system and "heralds a crisis for Israel’s democracy."
"Mandelblit’s announcement inserts law enforcement officials into the political arena in an unprecedented way, and on a very shaky legal foundation. If the legal theories that the attorney general is introducing against Netanyahu become general law, a considerable part of the democratic life of Israel will have to pass through police interrogation rooms," according to Bell.
"The criminal charges against the Prime Minister lack legal substance, and they threaten both the rule of law in Israel and the health of its democracy," Bell wrote citing the fact that his views are shared by the American law expert Alan Dershowitz.
"No one should be charged with a crime unless he has willfully crossed a bright line and plainly violated a serious criminal statute. To bring down a duly elected prime minister on the basis of an expansive and unprecedented application of a broad and expandable criminal statute endangers democracy," Dershowitz recently wrote.
On Monday, the former Harvard Law School professor and supporter of former US President Barack Obama doubled down on his criticism on Mandelblit. Dershowitz wrote in an open letter to the Israeli Attorney General that pressing forward with the charges against Netanyahu would have "dangerous implications for democracy and freedom of the press."
Bell’s article is worth reading since he analyzed the thee indictments thoroughly and because he’s one of Israel’s most prominent law experts.
Netanyahu’s decision to open his address to the nation about the indictments with remarks about his visit to Putin didn’t get much attention from the media but it was perhaps the most important part of his speech.
The two leaders have a personal relationship which dates back to March 1997 when Netanyahu made his first of 13 trips to Russia as Israeli PM.
Putin was one of former Russian president Jeltsin’s deputies and to this day views Netanyahu as an equal while he has a special affection for Israel because of the presence of what he still considers a million Russians in the Jewish state.
Netanyahu succeeded in solving the crisis between Russia and Israel which erupted in September 2018 after the Russians falsely blamed the Israeli Air Force for downing a Russian IL-20 reconnaissance airplane.
The reconciliation between the two countries is of vital importance for Israel’s ability to confront Iran in Syria since the Russians control Syrian airspace and have the advanced S-300 anti-aircraft missile shield at their disposal to foil IAF airstrikes in the war-torn country.
Netanyahu reported after the meeting with the Russian leader that Putin understands Israel’s security needs and that he had told him Israel would continue to operate against the Iranian entrenchment in Syria.
The fact that on Netanyahu’s watch the Israeli military succeeded to stay out of the Syrian mud while at the same time decimating Iran’s military build-up in the country is no small accomplishment.
It’s only one of the many achievements of Netanyahu in the field of security and foreign relations and Israelis have proven in the past that this is what really matters to them when election day comes.
A similar campaign by the Israeli left in 2015 ended in a miserable defeat for the now-disbanded Zionist Union after social media activists published a list of 67 achievements by governments led by Netanyahu days before the election.
"Israelis really do not like it when they see meddling in their politics. They take it very seriously since every day is an existential threat. They cannot afford to make a mistake with their Prime Minister. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is tried and true," American pro-Israel activist Dr. Joseph Frager wrote on Sunday.
Frager thinks the indictment of Netanyahu will backfire and calls upon the Israeli right to unite once again.
"The Right must fully unite behind him once again. It is more than imperative. It is critical," according to the Assistant Professor at the Einstein School of Medicine.
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