Since the beginning of 2017 Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowtiz – a renowned criminal lawyer and defender of human rights – hasn’t missed an opportunity to appear in the Israeli media (including The Jerusalem Post) to express his views on the investigations into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In his interviews and articles Dershowitz has raised three basic arguments in support of Netanyahu: that it is wrong and anti-democratic to try to bring down a serving prime minster or president by means of police investigations rather than elections, unless one is speaking of a heinous crime, and that such investigations should be left until after his/her term of office has ended; that the use of state witnesses in investigations against public figures is objectionable; and that none of the suspicions being investigated in Netanyahu’s cases may be considered more than minor misdemeanors, while most shouldn’t be viewed as transgressions at all (he has said the same about some of the suspicions raised against US President Donald Trump).
On principle I agree completely with Dershowitz that in democracies governments and those that head them ought to be replaced, with very rare exceptions, by means of free elections. This assumes, of course, that the democratically elected government and he/ she who heads it do not play foul in their attempts to remain in power. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Israel today.
I believe that there are several reasons why labeling as undemocratic efforts to bring Netanyahu to justice, sooner rather than later, over a whole host of alleged misdemeanors, is “a mockery of the poor” (la’ag larash).
Among these reasons are the fact that Netanyahu has been using – unfortunately with a fair measure of success – backhanded means to ward off any serious challenges to his leadership within the Likud, and to systematically delegitimize the Israeli Left, fighters for human rights, Israel’s Arab citizens, supporters of the two-state solution and even liberals within his own party. Then there is the fact that there is no term limit for prime ministers in Israel, and the prime minister can call for early elections to ward off undesirable moves by his opponents or to take advantage of circumstances that are favorable to him – something that Netanyahu has taken advantage of in the past. So à la guerre comme à la guerre.
In his interviews and articles Dershowitz has been inclined to compare the situation in Israel with that in the United States, even though the comparison is not always legitimate or relevant. He has also on occasion been flimsy with the facts.
For example, he argues that in the US all of serving presidents’ expenses – both public and private – are covered by the state, while in Israel there is a 200-page document that elaborates what is and what is not covered by the state – which he believes is ridiculous.
First of all, Netanyahu is not the president of the United States, though he might wish he were. Secondly, said Israeli document is not 200 pages long, and the regulations on the subject are quite simple and straightforward.
One would have expected that the first time the Netanyahus were accused of trying to get the state to cover their private expenses (this happened during Netanyahu’s first term in the late 1990s) they would have sat down with their lawyers and made a list of what they can and cannot get the Israeli taxpayer to pay for. But they didn’t, which accounts for the large number of repeated transgressions listed by the last two state comptrollers.
Another example: Dershowitz claimed that the issue of gifts received by the Netanyahus is ludicrous, and that there is no problem with regard to gifts received from friends, especially if no benefits were granted in return. First of all, Israeli regulations stipulate what gifts are legitimate, there being a strict value limit on them.
Secondly, Netanyahu apparently did provide certain services to those who showered him with gifts valued at hundreds of thousands of shekels.
In one of his interviews Dershowitz said that he once brought prime minister Golda Meir a carton of cigarettes. But for this to be comparable to the cigars Netanyahu received, Dershowitz should have brought Golda a dozen cartons, and continued to have cartons delivered to her residence on a regular basis over time, which is clearly not what transpired.
With regard to Netanyahu’s recorded talks with Yediot Aharonot owner Arnon Mozes, Dershowitz argued, back in January when the recordings were revealed, that the proof that “there was nothing,” and that there was no danger to the freedom of the press in Israel, is that Netanyahu voted against the Israel Hayom bill (that passed preliminary reading in November 2014), which was designed (according to Dershowitz) to benefit Yediot, and that Yediot continued to attack Netanyahu.
First of all, the bill was not about helping Mozes, but about stopping the contravention of the Party Financing Law by Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire owner of Israel Hayom, who allegedly contributed hundreds of millions of shekels to Netanyahu by financing (and covering the losses of) the pro-Netanyahu free newspaper.
Secondly, since Netanyahu actually spoke to Adelson about the possibility of limiting the distribution of Israel Hayom in return for a change of Yediot Aharonot’s editorial line, after he had spoken to Mozes, there is no proof that Netanyahu had no intention of not following up on his conversations with him. We shall apparently be hearing more about all this from Netanyahu’s former chief of staff turned state witness, Ari Harow, who was present when the conversations took place, and recorded them.
As to the delegitimization of state witnesses, the phenomenon is undoubtedly a messy legal arrangement, by which persons accused of serious misdemeanors clear themselves – wholly or partially – by providing substantial evidence against public figures or criminals.
That state witnesses are not always reliable is undeniable, but if using their services with all due care helps to do justice, so be it. It is legitimate.
Dershowitz stated in one of his interviews that smoke is not necessarily evidence of fire, but may indicate the presence of arsonists. Harow is certainly not viewed by law enforcement agencies as an arsonist, but rather as someone with the information to verify the suspicions raised by the smoke detectors, namely that Netanyahu may be guilty – as announced by the police before requesting a “gag order” on Harow’s evidence last week – of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
Are these sufficiently serious suspicions to justify completing the investigations against Netanyahu now rather than later, Prof. Dershowitz , or do you continue to support Netanyahu’ claim that “there will be nothing because there is nothing”?