Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu enters a press conference, February 28th, 2019.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
One of the foundations of any democracy is the judiciary. This consists of the courts as well as all relevant legal authorities – the State Prosecutor’s Office and the attorney-general.
For a democracy to thrive, the judiciary needs to retain its independence and be able to make decisions without interference from external processes or time lines. If not, the justice system will be constantly undermined and weakened by various actors who know how to take advantage of its vulnerabilities.
For that reason, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit was right when he decided to continue the investigations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, even though elections were announced in late December. This made sense. Investigations need to be independent of elections since, if not, politicians will do exactly what Netanyahu did last year, and call early elections to try and avoid judgment.
This is all important to keep in mind as the attacks against Mandelblit begin following his announcement on Thursday that – pending a hearing – he will charge Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in the cases known as 1000, 2000 and 4000.
Speaking just hours after the official announcement from the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem, Netanyahu dismissed the decision to indict him as a politically motivated “witch-hunt.” “There is nothing to these (allegations),” he said in the televised statement. “There are rules for everyone, and other rules for Netanyahu and the Likud. This whole house of cards will fall.”
He then went on to personally attack State Attorney Shai Nitzan, who he said discriminates against politicians on the Right, like himself. In addition, he said, Nitzan engaged in “selective enforcement,” choosing to hunt Netanyahu while ignoring the wrongdoings of others.
We urge Netanyahu to refrain from attacking Israel’s legal authorities. While every suspect has the right and duty to fight and try to clear his or her name, launching personal assaults on Mandelblit and Nitzan is not the way to do that.
What Netanyahu is trying to do is undermine the validity and objectivity of the entire judiciary, and if he succeeds in doing that on a large scale, it could have a long-term negative impact on the State of Israel for years to come. Even suspects have a responsibility to safeguard the state, especially one who is also the prime minister.
Let’s also remember that Mandelblit was appointed by Netanyahu, comes from the right-wing and served as Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary. Netanyahu was the one who pushed for Mandelblit’s appointment as attorney-general.
The police chief who oversaw most of the investigations – Roni Alsheich – was also appointed by Netanyahu and used to live in a settlement in the West Bank. When he took the job as the country’s top cop, Alsh4ich – a former deputy head of the Shin Bet – was told that after his term in the police, he would be tapped as the next head of the security agency.
In addition, the state’s witnesses set to testify against Netanyahu are all former aides who worked closely with the prime minister, and include his former chief of staff, the former director-general of the communications ministry he appointed to the post, and his former personal spokesman.
To assume that dozens of police officers, investigators, prosecutors, legal experts and former top aides all conspired to bring him down is irresponsible at best and dangerous at worst.
It is an attempt to deflect from what is really happening and from the substance of the charges which reveal a prime minister who was obsessed with controlling the media and allegedly willing to break the law to achieve that goal.
This doesn’t mean that the case they built will stand up in court. For that exact reason, Netanyahu will receive a hearing before a final decision on an indictment is made.
If it goes to court, like any suspect, he will receive a fair trial and the right to appeal the final verdict.
Netanyahu needs to remember that there is a country bigger than even he is. If he really cares about it, as he says he does, he will stop attacking the judiciary and its representatives. Attack the substance, Mr. Prime Minister, not the messengers.
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