Candidate Rothman: Conviction may not bring down Netanyahu

Religious Zionist Party #4 says he’ll be next Knesset’s address for Anglos.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen gesturing at a Clalit vaccination center in Zarzir, on February 9, 2021. (photo credit: DAVID COHEN/FLASH 90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen gesturing at a Clalit vaccination center in Zarzir, on February 9, 2021.
(photo credit: DAVID COHEN/FLASH 90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may not have to quit if convicted on bribery charges until he has exhausted his appeal process, Knesset candidate Simcha Rothman said on Thursday, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.
A legal authority on the connection between politics and law, Rothman is director and founder of Meshilut, the Israeli Movement for Governability and Democracy, and the fourth candidate on MK Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionist Party list.
“Being an MK gives me the obligation to use my judgment,” Rothman said. “I would have to look at the conviction and determine what would be best for the State of Israel. There is a red line in the Basic Law: Government. But the rest is up to Knesset members, based on the interests of the state. If we’re in the middle of a war, I might say it’s not in the best interests for him to go.”
Many officials believe there is a moral responsibility requiring a convicted prime minister to quit immediately, even though the Basic Law allows him to stay in office until all appeals are exhausted.
Rothman’s view, which is likely to be accepted in his party and the rest of the pro-Netanyahu bloc, could keep him in power for another six months to a year or more if he forms the next government.
Rothman and his party also support the controversial French Law, which prevents prime ministers and presidents from being investigated while in office and freezes legal proceedings against them.
“Over the last 25 years, there has barely been a day without a prime minister under investigation,” he lamented. “We need a French Law to take this off the table. Some politicians who supported the bill before now oppose it because it would help Netanyahu. For instance, Yair Lapid spoke in favor of it when Ehud Olmert was prime minister.”
Rothman founded Meshilut eight years ago because he felt that Israelis don’t understand the concepts of checks and balances, and separation of powers. He advocates for checks and balances limiting what he calls “an all-powerful justice system, an omnipotent court, and an attorney-general whose powers can’t be compared to anyone else in the free world.”
Rothman wants politicians empowered to act as Israel’s gatekeepers and keep unelected government officials in check.
“The prosecution can make the lives of our citizens a living hell,” he said. “We need our politicians to keep order in the prosecution and police, because there is no one else to stop them. For instance, the minister of public security can fire any policeman by law, but he won’t because they will probe him, or people will say they’re hurting the police due to Netanyahu’s cases.”
Rothman favors splitting the attorney-general’s three current roles – head of the prosecution, legal adviser to the government, and representative before the High Court of Justice – among two or three different people. The legal adviser would be a political appointment, while the chief prosecutor can be appointed professionally and would need to be removed from the system.
“Elected officials in Israel as a general rule are much less corrupt than unelected officials,” he said. “For the prosecution, the biggest prize is bringing down a prime minister or a mayor. They don’t look for real criminals. I don’t think it’s healthy for the system. Other countries go outside the regular system, because the regular system is biased. The job of the prosecution is not to investigate politicians but to prevent crime.”
However, the current system of appointing the attorney-general with less political involvement (the justice minister and the cabinet must still approve) was put into place after the Bar-On Affair, in which Arye Deri tried to make a deal about the appointment of the attorney-general in exchange for positive treatment of charges he was then facing.
Rothman said that even in the old system, it was possible to prosecute top politicians when necessary.
Furthermore, Rothman said that even if many attacking the attorney-general today could be accused of having ulterior motives to help Netanyahu with his cases, Rothman was calling for changes to the appointment of the attorney-general before the current Netanyahu controversies.
Rothman, 40, has been overshadowed by another right-wing lawyer, Otzma Yehudit head Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is just ahead of him on the Religious Zionist Party list that most polls predict will win five seats in the March 23 election.
There are differences between Rothman, Ben-Gvir and Smotrich on key issues, but he believes it is important to unite the ideological Right.
“This is the only party that puts the right-wing agenda at the top of its priorities,” he said. “We are the only party that says we want settlements throughout Judea and Samaria, and wants to fix the problems with the courts. Other parties will put at the top of their agenda their personal love or hate of Netanyahu and their desire to be prime minister. My experience has said that whenever you put something else at the top of your agenda, ideology comes last.”
Rothman’s agenda also includes helping Israelis from English-speaking countries and their children. While his own family made aliyah from Cleveland more than a century ago, his wife’s parents moved to Israel from Skokie, Illinois, before she was born. She was raised in the Anglo-dominated Neve Aliza neighborhood of Karnei Shomron, and their five children are American citizens.
He earned his LLM degree in public law in the joint program between Northwestern University and Tel Aviv University in Israel and Chicago, and he has family in the US, Canada and Australia. He lives in Pnei Kedem in Gush Etzion.
“The Anglo community is the place I feel at home, and I hope Anglos feel at home coming to me to solve issues,” he said. “I know how to file taxes in both countries. I hope to be the address of English speakers in Israel.”