The die is cast. Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit’s rejection of Benjamin Netanyahu’s request to delay his hearing by a year means the judicial process he hoped to avoid is now under way.
Netanyahu must now prepare for a possible indictment not only in the personal sense, which he evidently is, but in the national sense, which he evidently is not.
Ironically, the hearing has been set for the morning after Rosh Hashanah, during the Ten Days of Repentance, when Jews are expected to search their souls.
Netanyahu’s morality is, at this stage, between him and God. However, his relationship with the judiciary, including his hammering at this pillar of our democracy, is not between him and God; it’s between him and us.
This part of Netanyahu’s situation would have been different had he saluted the legal system throughout the process he has come to face. That’s not what he did.
THE FIRST scandal in this regard was Netanyahu’s fantastic attack on the law enforcement system’s integrity, when he implied that the cops who investigated him, the attorneys who might indict him, the judges who might convict him, and the press that is covering the allegations he faces add up to one big cabal – “the Left” – that has resolved to derail his career.
That included his own appointees, former Israel Police chief Roni Alsheich, an alumnus of nationalist-religious bastion Yeshivat Merkaz Harav, who grew up in Kiryat Arba, and Attorney-General Mandelblit, son of an Irgun veteran and a disciple of hassidic Kabbalist Baruch Shalom Halevi Ashlag (1907-1991).
Such people belong to “the Left” about as much as Yossi Beilin belongs to the Right.
Bizarre though this categorizing was, its gravity lay less in its absurdity and more in its insinuation that Israel’s judges and cops are corrupt.
This preelection hammering resumed in earnest soon after Netanyahu’s victory, twice:
First, when Netanyahu reneged on his election promise not to promote legislation that would grant him automatic immunity; and then, when he reportedly guided Likud lawmakers to say that the voters knew of the allegations Netanyahu faced and still reelected him, and that means he should be allowed to first complete his term and only then face justice.
In other words, the voters overruled the judiciary. Such a suggestion means anarchy – voters, like politicians, are not meant to replace the courts – and, coming from the prime minister, it means catastrophe.
The Channel 12 report on Netanyahu’s guidelines was unsourced, but Netanyahu did not deny it. Meanwhile, coalition negotiations indeed involved bills that would affect Netanyahu’s legal situation.
Netanyahu evidently tried to amend the Immunity Law, and also to pass legislation that would reduce the judiciary’s clout in ways that would forestall the process he faces.
This, regardless of the substance of the charges against him, is why he should step aside if and when he is indicted.
MIDDLE ISRAELIS don’t necessarily condone judicial activism.
As explained here previously (“Israel needs a constitutional convention,” May 26, 2018), the High Court’s interventionism has been disagreeable not only to the Right, but also to some of its most outspoken opponents, including former Histadrut labor federation chairman Haim Ramon, senior jurist Daniel Friedmann, and the dean of Israel’s political scientists, Hebrew University’s Shlomo Avineri.
Netanyahu’s quest for judicial reform is therefore not implausible in itself. The problem lies in this sudden urge’s timing and circumstances.
Having been in power a full decade now, he had plenty of time to forge and pass a judicial reform. Netanyahu never bothered, not this time around nor in his first prime-ministerial term last century. He only got to this business once it affected his own situation.
That’s not how judicial reforms are done, much less is it why they are done.
Judicial reforms must be done because of national considerations, and passed through a broad consensus. The basic laws Freedom of Occupation and Human Dignity and Freedom, which triggered the judicial revolution he is out to reverse, were passed in 1992 jointly by members of the Likud and Labor parties as well as Meretz and the National Religious Party.
If he had a vision of his own concerning judicial reform, Netanyahu never presented it publicly. A spirit of reformism, good or bad, emerged in his coalition only when Ayelet Shaked, who did not belong to his party, became justice minister, not because of Netanyahu but in spite of him.
ALARMED by Netanyahu’s accelerating abuse of the system, I called the other day my longtime mentor and colleague Pinchas Landau, and asked him how he thought the crisis will unfold.
“Like Julius Caesar,” he said, referring to the fabled emperor turned dictator; “his own colleagues will at some point see in him a liability and turn on him.”
Landau was vindicated in less than 48 hours, when Likud MK and former interior minister Gideon Sa’ar emerged on Channel 12’s nightly news to say that changing the existing immunity law would “be unhelpful for Netanyahu and harmful for the Likud.”
The signal had thus been given. Sa’ar was quickly joined by Likud lawmaker Michal Shir, who tweeted that personal legislation would be “mistaken and unnecessary.” The two were then followed by former Likud minister Bennie Begin, who said “hiding behind immunity would be corrupt.”
Caesar, it should be noted, was declared immune – or “sacrosanct” – shortly before his colleagues decided to end his rule. Netanyahu would therefore be wise to spend the time left until his hearing by preparing to stage the political retreat Caesar never made.
“Having been indicted,” he should then say in a dramatic TV address, “I have decided to step aside and face the Jewish state’s judges, whose morality I do no doubt, and whose verdict, like any other citizen, I hereby vow to respect.”
The writer’s best-selling Mitz’ad Ha’ivelet Hayehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sfarim, 2019) is an interpretation of the Jewish people’s political history.