It begins with the present stalemate in forming a coalition in Israel. As I write this, the two sides (Likud and Blue and White) are locked in a bear hug of mutual accusations. No need to rehash. It all boils down to one simple matter: Should a man under indictment for bribery, fraud and breach of trust serve as prime minister?Why am I angry? And at whom? First of all, at the leaders of the Likud, with the exception of Gideon Sa’ar. None of the others has the courage to state clearly what they want. As I wrote weeks ago, the MKs who face reality stand and applaud like Stalinist puppets, while each eyes the other, begging them to stop applauding first.As of this writing, a week before this issue is on the newsstands, no one in Likud is ready to break ranks and back Blue and White leader Benny Gantz in order to avoid election round three. The potential contenders to Bibi’s crown want to lead an intact Likud into the next election.
Last time I wrote that “we live in the Middle East,” the 450-rocket Jihad attack from Gaza broke out a few days later.But beyond that, I began being angry when Alan Dershowitz had the chutzpah to claim that Israel’s attorney general and our justice system are being used for political purposes. Harvard Shmarvard! Am I supposed to take seriously a gun-for-hire who defended O.J. Simpson, and boasts that he “won” 13 of 15 murder and attempted murder cases?Should we trust a man who baldly says, according to a Wikipedia entry, “The defendant wants to hide the truth because he’s generally guilty. The defense attorney’s job is to make sure the jury does not arrive at that truth.” That is the ethical standard of the man who would judge us?Another one of the men who signed off on an unsolicited brief (or solicited by Netanyahu’s coterie) was Nathan Lewin.
But he too is an American lawyer, and though proudly Orthodox, is part of a law system where anything goes to keep the guilty truth from appearing. Among his clients was president Richard Nixon. His blog in The Times of Israel states: “Bribery charges against Netanyahu wouldn’t hold water in a US court.” We live in Israel. We fight corruption. You (plural) live in the US, in my eyes a highly corrupt country where money and lobbyists openly buy representatives, and where in many jurisdictions, judges are elected. Clean up your own act before exporting ridiculous statements such as that made by five American lawyers headed by Dershowitz: “There has never been a single case in the democratic world in which a public figure was prosecuted, let alone convicted, of the ‘crime’ of receiving a requested ‘bribe’ of favorable publicity.” In other words, no precedent.These men are distinguished lawyers. Some are even professors. I once was a witness in a law case here and have been in traffic courts. So I am just an unschooled layman.But my reading of history is this: in 1947, the United States, the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union and France established a court in Nuremberg to try Nazi leaders of Hitler’s Germany. I am not in any way – Heaven forfend – comparing my prime minister with them. Please let it be clear, I relate only, again, only to the issue of “no precedent.”This is, with respect, total nonsense.In 1947, there was no precedent for trying individuals (rather than nations) for “crimes against humanity.” That was established at the post-World War II Nuremberg trials. There was no precedent for outlawing “genocide” – there could not have been because the word was invented by Rafael Lemkin in 1942 and published in a book in1944. Finally, in December 1948 (71 years ago), the term appeared in the UN Genocide Convention, an instrument of international law that codified for the first time the crime of killing all or a part of an ethnic, religious or linguistic group. The Genocide Convention was the first human rights treaty adopted by the General Assembly of the UN.No precedent?If you think that example is sui generis, scour the books, lawyers, and find other cases that were firsts “in the democratic world.”
Secondly, as David Ben-Gurion said, “Experts only know what has been. They do not know what can be.” Why should Israel not set a precedent, which at least in one field would make us “a light unto the nations?” Maybe the lawyers should have studied English poetry. Tennyson wrote the following reason, among others, for loving his native land: “Where Freedom slowly broadens down/From precedent to precedent.” Yes, I resent having Dershowitz attack our system, and his entire group for undue interference in the lives of the people of Israel.
I suggest that the five etzeh-gebers (the Yiddish term for givers of advice who have no stake in the matter and whose advice is usually bad) look to their own moral and legal ethics. And what is their task in this issue, their role? Dershowitz rushing to Netanyahu’s aid could really imply that the prime minister is not innocent of the charges. I throw these words into Dershowitz’s case: “The defendant wants to hide the truth because he’s generally guilty. The defense attorney’s job is to make sure the jury does not arrive at that truth.”And if you want to give us legal (bad) advice, move here and do it from within. We appreciate your pro-Israel help in the past, but that absolutely does not give you standing to impugn a justice system much more honest than yours.Clearly, the United States is one of the most openly corrupt of democratic states. Any office holder can be bought legally through unlimited contributions to their campaigns. Lobbyists, often working through tax-free structures, peddle their murky merchandise and hold back or advance legislation as it suits their employers. Legally mandated corruption.The Talmud says, “Purify yourself, then purify others.” Clean up your own house before you start with others.NOW A word of caution to our new minister of defense, Naftali Bennett. He is a practical man, not quite matching the job description of education minister, but certainly having technical and management experience fitting for defense.His understanding of strategy and powers at play have doubtless grown from his service in previous security cabinets. Now, Minister Bennett, it is time to cast your headline-seeking aside. You proclaimed you are a game-changer on Iran. An Iranian would then understand that the present admitted and unadmitted attacks on Iranian targets in Syria and Iraq are inadequate; that now the IDF will attack Iran itself.Rule No. 1 for a new senior minister: Do not insult or belittle any Middle East leader or people, certainly not Iran, and do not threaten any nation, especially not Iran. Every nation and every national leader resents insults and threats, but in the Middle East, pride is a larger issue than anything else.Anwar Sadat needed to show Egypt was a “winner” before he could fly to Jerusalem to launch the peace process with Egypt.
I learned from the great prime minister, Levi Eshkol, “C’est le ton qui fait la musique,” as he was wont to quote in the original French. “It’s the tone that makes the music.” Or as US President Theodore Roosevelt said over a hundred years ago, “Speak softly and carry a big stick!”When you were a political leader of a small party, you could say whatever you wanted. Now you are a national leader. You have it in you to act like one.To return to the larger coalition talks, Bennett and Ayelet Shaked are politically tied to Netanyahu today. That bond may fray or break sooner than later, but they are big winners on the right for people who do not want to vote for today’s Likud. But things change swiftly here. They cannot necessarily count on it in the long run.And finally, floating in the air and in the media is the proposal that Netanyahu profess guilt and resign, and in return the president would then pardon him. Netanyahu admit guilt? I don’t believe that could happen. If he is pardoned, what about the ministers under investigation? And what about the principle that “no one is above the law”? I am conflicted on this question.I close with this Quixotic wish that before this magazine is published, by some deus-ex-machina miracle, a coalition of patriots arise who will save us the bubbling cauldron of hatred, the expense, and the damage to governance. Let the brave MKs step forward! ■Avraham Avi-hai was secretary for Public Affairs to Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, and has written books on Israeli politics and Israel-Diaspora relations, as well as a novel. Comments to [email protected]