Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a weekly cabinet meeting, March 3rd, 2019.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
In criminal proceedings, the state is the plaintiff. This means that if an indictment is filed against the prime minister, its heading will be: “The State of Israel vs. Benjamin Netanyahu.” While the final decision about an indictment will not be made until after a hearing, with the publication of the draft indictment, the prime minister must decide whether he will launch a public campaign under the reverse heading: “Benjamin Netanyahu vs. the State of Israel.”
Should he choose this path – with furious rhetoric, threats against the law-enforcement system, incitement of the masses as to its legitimacy, and an après moi le déluge atmosphere – he will be acting like the most basic of defendants. It would be a clear sign of the fall from grace of the man who has led Israel for the last decade. The echoes of his positive achievements are likely to be blotted out from the public’s memory, and replaced by the image of a whining and persecuted man who perceives state institutions as a personal threat.
But there is an alternative path open to the prime minister, which is not only the correct course from the perspective of democratic principles, but also one from which he would reap significant political benefits: instead of bringing down the house with him, he can take the honorable course and place the national interest above his own.
Imagine the prime minister, with our national flag behind him, making the following dramatic announcement:
“Citizens of Israel. In the past, I risked my life to defend the homeland. While in the uniform of the General Staff Commando Unit, the Angel of Death brushed against my side several times, and I survived. I embarked on those missions willingly, like all other combat soldiers, because I understood that the nation’s survival is more important than anything else, including my own life.
Today, when donning a different sort of national uniform, that of the prime minister, I find myself facing a similar test. Once again, I must give priority to the national interest over my own private interest. This is why I will not listen to the counsel of some of my friends, who urge me to defend myself by attacking the legitimacy of the indictment. As prime minister, bearing responsibility for the nation’s security and well-being – not only along the borders, but within them – my ultimate and foremost responsibility is to fortify public trust in the legal system. Menachem Begin is remembered for his remark that “there are judges in Jerusalem,” meaning that we must accept judicial rulings even when they are painful. I will continue on this path and will not permit anyone, not even my well-wishers, to challenge state institutions. That must never be!
I am aware of the voices claiming that there is a plan to indict me for political and ideological reasons. I have also heard the irresponsible voices calling on the masses to take to the streets should an indictment be filed. But as someone who understands the importance of the rule of law for the very existence of our democracy, I must reject these voices and do everything in my power to silence them. If we do not submit to the verdicts of our courts, we are liable to turn the sages’ warning into a sad reality: “Were it not for fear of the state, every man would swallow his neighbor alive.” My supreme responsibility is to avert this catastrophe.
We have no other country and we have no other court system.
I was raised in the spirit of liberal democracy and one of its inherent characteristics – the separation of powers. I grew up in a Revisionist home where placing country above party and ideology was the guiding principle. I have a deep understanding of our historic responsibility to continue to fulfill the mission of establishing the modern State of Israel in our generation. This is why I call on the public: Let our judges issue the verdict.
Citizens of Israel, I am well acquainted with the burden of the prime minister’s work and the weight of this responsibility. I have borne them on my shoulders longer than any other Israeli. And so – I pledge that I will do everything in my power to convince the Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit that the indictment is unfounded and that I am untainted by any criminal acts whatsoever. So I believe. But should the day come and the attorney-general decides after a hearing to file a final indictment, I will not remain in my post as prime minister. I will prove my innocence in the courtroom.
I do not expect any reward whatsoever for coming to the defense of the judicial system. Like anyone else, I expect a fair hearing and believe that I will be able to prove my innocence and continue to serve our wonderful nation.
WOULD PUBLIC support for the prime minister surge after such a speech? If Netanyahu decides to go down this ethical and honorable path, this will become immediately clear. What is entirely certain is that history will salute him for it.Yedidia Stern is a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute and a professor of law at Bar-Ilan University.
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