Presumed innocent

It is incumbent on the public to wait patiently until the state attorney and the attorney-general review the evidence collected by the police and make a decision.

By
February 14, 2018 22:35
3 minute read.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks in Tel Aviv, Israel February 14, 2018

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks in Tel Aviv, Israel February 14, 2018. (photo credit: NIR ELIAS / REUTERS)

Police announced on Tuesday night that they believe there is enough evidence against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in two separate cases to indict him on two counts of bribery.

In Case 1000, the “gifts affair,” police say Netanyahu accepted expensive gifts from businessmen and reciprocated by advancing these businessmen’s interests.

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In Case 2000, or the “Yediot Aharonot affair,” Netanyahu allegedly negotiated with publisher Arnon “Noni” Mozes for favorable coverage of himself in Yediot Aharonot. Netanyahu purportedly worked to weaken Israel Hayom, Yediot’s competitor, in exchange.

In both cases, new and previously unpublished details were revealed. In Case 1000, the biggest revelation is the involvement of Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid.

Lapid testified in a police interrogation that Netanyahu attempted to pass a tax break for returning Israeli citizens that would have benefited Arnon Milchan, an Israeli expat Hollywood producer who regularly gave Netanyahu gifts such as champagne, cigars, jewelry, flights and hotel rooms. Lapid, who is also a close acquaintance of Milchan, said he blocked these attempts as finance minister in Netanyahu’s government.

In Case 2000, police were particularly daring. Though Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit is reportedly skeptical about the extent of Netanyahu’s involvement in a deal with Mozes and has doubted the ability to prove wrong-doing, the police nevertheless recommended a charge of bribery, not just a lesser charge of breach of trust.

Police say they found evidence Netanyahu approached US casino mogul and owner of Israel Hayom Sheldon Adelson in an attempt to lower circulation of the paper. He also purportedly checked with senior MKs whether it would be possible to pass the “Israel Hayom bill,” which sought to force the freebie daily to start charging for the paper.

It is not the police’s job to decide whether or not Netanyahu should be indicted. Our legal system makes a clear distinction between the role of the police, which is to investigate and gather evidence, and the state attorney and the attorney-general, who are empowered to decide whether the evidence and testimony is strong enough to prove wrongdoing on the part of the prime minister.

Indeed, it is questionable whether the police, who have no power to indict, should be allowed to publicize their recommendations at all. Allowing them to might be beneficial in cases where they exonerate a suspect. But the down side of publicizing police recommendations is that it prematurely decides the fate of potentially innocent persons. If police recommendations do not lead to an indictment, this could undermine the public’s trust in the police.

This is not the first time police have recommended indicting Netanyahu for bribery and breach of trust.

In the 1997 “Hebron Bar-On affair,” Netanyahu was accused of working to appoint Ronnie Bar-On as attorney-general with the hope that Bar-On would be more forgiving of Shas chairman Arye Deri, who was ultimately convicted on corruption charges. The belief was that Shas would support Netanyahu’s government in instituting redeployment of IDF troops in Hebron in accordance with peace agreements with the Palestinians. Ultimately, then-attorney general Elyakim Rubinstein closed the case for lack of evidence.

In the 1999 “Amedi affair,” police and then-state attorney Edna Arbel recommended that Netanyahu be indicted for fraud and breach of trust. Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, had purportedly arranged for the state to foot the bill for work done on their private residence by contractor Avner Amedi. Once again, Rubinstein closed the case for lack of evidence.

Will this time be different? It is too early to tell. But it is clear that a police recommendation to indict does not necessarily mean that the state attorney or the attorney-general will agree with the police, or that an indictment will lead to conviction.

It is incumbent on the public to wait patiently until the state attorney and the attorney-general review the evidence collected by the police and make a decision.

Until then, the prime minister should be given the benefit of the doubt. Extending this elementary right is also in the interest of the nation. There is a country that needs to be run.


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