Netanyahu should take the plea deal - editorial

If the trial runs its course and Netanyahu is found guilty, his supporters will be further convinced that the trial was a witch hunt.

 THEN-PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a hearing in his trial at the Jerusalem District Court last February.  (photo credit: REUVEN KASTRO/FLASH90)
THEN-PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a hearing in his trial at the Jerusalem District Court last February.
(photo credit: REUVEN KASTRO/FLASH90)

The time has come for the country to move on from Netanyahu-gate.

For this reason, we support efforts to reach a plea deal whereby former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu will plead guilty to lesser charges of fraud and breach of trust, receive a jail sentence commuted to community service, and accept the “moral turpitude” designation that will bar the 72-year-old from politics for seven years.

This will put an end to a saga that began with police investigations in 2016 and turned Netanyahu into the fault line that split – and continues to divide – the nation.

If the trial runs its course and Netanyahu is found guilty, the significant part of the country that supports him will be further convinced that the trial was a witch hunt launched to bring down a right-wing premier, and their faith in the legal system will sink even lower.

If Netanyahu is acquitted, these same people will be strengthened in their belief that the legal system was used for political ends, since an acquittal would reinforce their belief that the case should never have gone to trial. Those who passionately oppose Netanyahu will still believe he is a crook and that justice was not served, and their belief in the legal system will sink.

 Netanyahu with his wife at his defamation trial January 10, 2022. (credit: DANA KOPEL) Netanyahu with his wife at his defamation trial January 10, 2022. (credit: DANA KOPEL)

In either scenario, confidence in the fairness and impartiality of the judicial system will take a beating, which does this country no good.

Furthermore, a continuation of the trial will just deepen the societal schisms that have emerged surrounding Netanyahu. The case – through all the appeals – could continue in the courts for quite some time, during which the issue will hover disruptively above everything, as it has for the last several years. Proceeding to the bitter end would only further aggravate the country’s divisions.

Those opposed to a deal are to be found in both the pro and anti-Netanyahu camps.

Those in the pro-Netanyahu camp are convinced of his innocence and want to see the trial continue so that he can be completely vindicated, both for his own benefit – and that of his family – but also as a way of exposing what they feel is a politically-motivated legal system.

But if Netanyahu himself takes the deal, then they will eventually fall into line – it is hard to believe they will be holier than the Pope. Taking the deal means that Netanyahu and his lawyers do not believe he will be completely vindicated in court. So if they don’t think so, who are their supporters to second guess them?

Those in the anti-Netanyahu camp who are opposed to a plea believe that the principle of equality before the law will be trampled upon by any such deal and that a lack of jail time might encourage similar crimes by other politicians.

But the argument that a plea would damage the principle of equal justice rings hollow. First, because plea bargains are an accepted part of this country’s legal system. Indeed, some 80% of cases are concluded in a plea deal.

And second, the principle of equal justice never applied in this case. If there were equal justice, then Netanyahu should not have been allowed to remain prime minister after his indictment in 2019 – a school principal would have had to resign if faced with a similar charge sheet.

But there is a difference between equal justice and being above the law.

The prime minister, by virtue of his lofty position, was treated differently, and though he was also investigated with thoroughness and intensity probably not deployed for the average citizen. But the entire saga – that Netanyahu was investigated, indicted, put on trial and, if the deal is accepted with the moral turpitude clause, forced out of politics – shows once again that in this country no one is above the law, and that everyone, even the prime minister, will be held accountable.

Some of those opposed are motivated less by concern for equal justice and more out of a desire to see a man they despise behind bars. But this thirst for revenge should not override what is best for the country: get the deal done and let everyone move on.