Jerusalem Post Editorial: Probe speedily

It seems that the prime minister may or may not have received gifts worth hundreds of thousands of shekels from Israeli and foreign businessmen.

January 2, 2017 22:41
3 minute read.
Benjamin Netanyahu

Benjamin Netanyahu. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Few confirmed details have been revealed regarding a probe of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

According to reports, it seems that the prime minister may or may not have received gifts worth hundreds of thousands of shekels from Israeli and foreign businessmen. If he did receive these gifts, they may or may not have constituted a breach in his duty of trust as a public servant. The gifts – if they were given – might even be construed as bribery.

Still, the nature of the allegations remain vague.

Until today, it seemed that Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit had not yet decided to open a fullfledged criminal investigation and that the probe will remain defined as “preliminary.”

The Justice Ministry has remained tight-lipped, revealing little if anything about the case.

Yet, leaks to the news media have already generated much negative press for the prime minister and his family. Further complicating matters for Netanyahu are unsubstantiated rumors that the issue of the gifts – if gifts were indeed given to Netanyahu and his family – will be overshadowed by a more severe case against him. But the details of this case – if it exists – remain unknown as of Monday.

What we do know is that sensitive information is being leaked to the press. The motivation behind the leaks is unclear. Perhaps sources inside the Israel Police or the State Attorney’s Office are under the impression that disparaging reports about the prime minister will put pressure on Mandelblit to escalate the probe to a criminal investigation.

What is clear is that the rumors are giving the public a negative picture of Netanyahu. News reporters at some media outlets have had difficulty hiding their joy at the prospect that Netanyahu, who has won the last three elections as head of the Likud, might finally be dethroned as a result of criminal charges, even if these charges are not proved in court.

This is not only unfair to Netanyahu, it is a blow to democracy on a number of levels.

First, a long, drawn-out probe into the prime minister’s purported wrongdoings paralyzes the government.

Instead of giving his full attention to running the nation, he will be forced to spend a good deal of his time to defending himself in both court and the media.

It is worth reassessing the present legal reality under which a serving prime minister can be indicted for a wide range of crimes and misdemeanors.

In 1977, then-attorney-general Aharon Barak insisted on opening a criminal investigation against thenprime minister Yitzhak Rabin over a dollar account his wife, Leah, held in a bank in Washington left over from his stint as ambassador to the US.

Barak rejected efforts to permit Rabin to simply pay a hefty fine and put the matter behind, claiming the leader of the government should be held to a higher standard.

While we agree with Barak that public servants – particularly the prime minister – should be held to the highest moral standard, other factors should be taken into consideration as well.

Getting to the bottom of allegations that Netanyahu received gifts from businessmen based in Israel and abroad is important. But the value of bringing to justice a serving prime minister for such an offense should be weighed against the disruption caused to governance. A high-profile criminal investigation also undermines the democratic process by delegitimizing a serving prime minister even if a conviction is never handed down.

It is worth considering a bill being presented by MK David Amsalem (Likud) that proposes to allow investigations against sitting prime ministers only in extreme cases.

In any event, the present investigation against Netanyahu should be conducted speedily and without leaks to the press. If it turns out that he received bribes from businessmen, he should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. If, on the other hand, it turns out that the allegations are baseless, he should be free to do what he was voted into office to do – run the country.

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