What should be demanded of Netanyahu in a plea deal?

MIDDLE ISRAEL: A plea bargain without admission of moral guilt and regret of judicial libel will only help Defendant Number One’s assault on the judiciary.

 DEMONSTRATORS PROTEST against a plea deal with former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, near the home of Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, in Petah Tikva, on January 15. The poster, which rhymes in Hebrew, reads: ‘The whole country knows, Bibi is a criminal.’ (photo credit: CHEN LEOPOLD/FLASH90)
DEMONSTRATORS PROTEST against a plea deal with former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, near the home of Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, in Petah Tikva, on January 15. The poster, which rhymes in Hebrew, reads: ‘The whole country knows, Bibi is a criminal.’
(photo credit: CHEN LEOPOLD/FLASH90)

It’s tempting.

The most obvious temptation is Benjamin Netanyahu’s. Just sign here and here and here, and you will avoid the fates of Ehud Olmert, Moshe Katsav, Arye Deri and the rest of our politicians who spent years behind bars.

Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit is also tempted. A plea bargain would end his stormy six-year term on a conciliatory note and also show he didn’t invent Netanyahu’s sins, because the defendant himself would confess, if even only concerning some of the charges, and only in some of the cases.

For the broader judiciary, represented in this case by former chief justice Aharon Barak, who reportedly mediated the prospective deal, it would, presumably, put an end to the festering clash between Defendant Number One and the judiciary.

The politicians also think they stand to benefit from the evolving deal.

 THEN-PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit sit alongside each other a cabinet meeting in 2014. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90) THEN-PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit sit alongside each other a cabinet meeting in 2014. (credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

Among Netanyahu’s opponents, some think that an admission on his part, if even only partial and understated, will provide vindication that their charges were all true, and his denials were all lies.

And lastly, the Right’s leaders welcome the deal that would make Netanyahu retire, if even none of them will say so publicly. Such a departure would finally clear the way for Netanyahu’s aspiring successors – there are seven already, and the number keeps rising – to launch the cockfight for Likud’s leadership.

Well despite these improbable bedfellows’ consensus, the deal in its reported contours is wrong and had better be shelved.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU was indicted in three cases.

The first is about illegal acceptance of some $200,000-worth of presents, cumulatively over five years, from two businessmen; the second is about a deal with the publisher of Yediot Aharonot involving favorable coverage in turn for helping ease a competitor’s competition; and the third is about regulatory favoritism that Netanyahu, as communications minister at the time, allegedly provided telecom giant Bezeq in turn for favorable coverage on the website Walla, which it owned at the time.

Netanyahu’s strategy in the face of this package has been threefold: legally, seek the allegations’ shrinkage; politically, seek legislation that will derail the process; and publicly, discredit the judiciary.

The shrinkage strategy worked already at the indictment stage.

Yes, Netanyahu was charged with fraud, breach of trust and bribery. However, bribery, the harshest charge, was not applied in the first case, the illegal gifts. This was despite the fact that, allegedly, he tried to help one gift-giver obtain a visa to the US.

Judging by this week’s reports, the already shrunken bribery allegation will altogether vanish in the evolving plea bargain. That alone is too much, but on his strategy’s other fronts the deal is not only wrong, but is prone to backfire and actually serve his moral attack on the law.

JURISTS THINK juristically. That’s understandable, and also explains the attorney-general’s successive concessions to Netanyahu. His job is to gauge evidence and calculate its chances of producing conviction.

However, in Netanyahu’s case there is another dimension, one that no law can define and no court can judge: public example. When a national leader faces the judiciary, the entire citizenry enters the courtroom with him and learns from his conduct before, during and after his day in court.

When Menachem Begin faced the commission that probed the First Lebanon War, he bowed, addressed chief justice Yitzhak Kahan as “your honor,” and never challenged his impartiality. When Yitzhak Rabin faced his wife’s indictment, he resigned, and never questioned the prosecution’s tactics or motivation.

Netanyahu’s conduct was entirely different. Israel’s longest-serving prime minister claimed, without ever providing evidence, that the cops, prosecutors, judges and journalists he faced brewed a conspiracy against him and his family.

The problem with this accusation is not only its baselessness and absurdity, and not only that it exposes a selfish and brutal personality, but that people believe it.

When the prime minister levels charges, even the most outlandish, people believe him. That’s why thousands believe Netanyahu was framed. They even believe the plot he invented includes former Israel Police chief Roni Alsheich, a guy who grew up in Kiryat Arba, graduated from the ultra-Zionist Yeshivat Merkaz Harav and spent decades risking his life fighting terror as a cop, IDF commando and Shin Bet spook.

A plea bargain must therefore address the libel Netanyahu concocted, and undo it. It must include a personal statement by Netanyahu that there was no conspiracy against him, and also an apology to the judges, cops, prosecutors and journalists he libeled.

Then, before proceeding to its legal side, the deal would include a public admission of guilt, Netanyahu’s concession of the moral severity of the allegations to which he will admit.

Then the plea bargain will proceed to the rest of the deal, the bottom line of which would be no jail time in turn for a full political departure.

Conversely, if the deal doesn’t include such a surrender note, Netanyahu’s attack on the judiciary will not have been defeated, and in fact will resume and intensify, even if he becomes passive. His blind followers will fight his unholy war, sincerely believing he did nothing wrong and was wickedly framed.

Explaining once how faith in a superhuman can survive his downfall, historian Gershom Scholem said that believing in the slain Jesus was easier than believing in messianic imposture Shabbetai Zevi after he converted to Islam. For believers, he observed, a converted messiah is more challenging than a crucified messiah.

For Netanyahu’s believers, a plea bargain without an admission of guilt and a declaration of remorse would make him a crucified martyr. Only an unambiguous confession will make them realize that their messiah, like so many before him, had fallen, and that if Moses could sin, then so could Bibi Netanyahu.

www.MiddleIsrael.net

The writer’s bestselling Mitzad Ha’ivelet Ha’yehudi (The Jewish March of Folly, Yediot Sefarim, 2019), is a revisionist history of the Jewish people’s leadership from antiquity to modernity.