Now is the time for the newly elected Knesset, during its first week in session, to pass a law that ascertains that a citizen with standing indictments for corruption and breach of public trust cannot serve as prime minister.
No, this is not a personal law against Benjamin Netanyahu. It is repairing a huge lacuna in the existing law that should be obvious and should not even require a second thought. Even now, citizens with such severe indictments cannot hold any public office (except prime minister) until they have completed the legal process determining their innocence.
Even though the law presumes innocence before being found guilty, the laws of Israel, as in almost every democratic country, determine that once a public servant is suspected of corruption and breach of public trust, they cannot be trusted to continue their service until found completely innocent by a court of law.
Yes, the new law would be applied to Netanyahu, but it is not retroactive, and it is not personal. The Supreme Court ruled that under existing laws, an indicted MK cannot be a minister in the government, but they can be prime minister.
The court simply ruled on the existing legal situation. But this is so absurd and should not be acceptable. According to existing laws, Netanyahu cannot serve in a government that he forms. Netanyahu cannot be a school teacher in a public school. He cannot serve as a public rabbi if he had the rabbinical certificates. How is it logical that such a person with standing indictments could serve as prime minister? It is simply not logical and not moral and it should not be legal.
Israel’s governance has been held in abeyance for four rounds of elections, since January 2020 when the attorney-general filed indictments against Netanyahu. Under normal circumstances, in any democracy that respects itself and any public official with self-respect would have stepped down and focused on proving their innocence, while allowing the business of government to continue without their insistence to stay in position.
At minimum, the law should require a public servant in the highest position in the land to be legally incapacitated until proven innocent. If innocent, the law could allow for the previously indicted prime minister to return to power. This is perhaps not ideal, but it might be an acceptable compromise for those who would prefer that full resignation from power be the proper steps required when indicted.
The attorney-general, backed by the public prosecutors and the police, spent years investigating the charges against Netanyahu, and while Netanyahu may strongly believe that the evidence against him is not worthy of the indictment, the only place where he can prove his innocence is in the court of law. Until that time, Netanyahu, or any other elected official who is indicted, should not be permitted to continue their public service until they are cleared of all charges against them.
THERE ARE suggestions that Netanyahu is now trying to maneuver his election to the position of president of Israel in a year from now. The residency is mostly ceremonial and serves as a voice of unity of the citizens. There is little doubt Netanyahu would not agree to suffice with so little actual governing power. It is much more likely and wise to assume that if such a plan is in the making, Netanyahu would choose to follow the lead of Vladimir Putin, who succeeded in creating an executive presidential system in Russia after leaving the office of prime minister, which had been a position of executive power.
Putin served the maximum term of office as prime minister and then took over the presidency and changed the system of government, placing full executive powers in his hands. Netanyahu has spoken many times of the need to change the system of governance. The problems of the lack of governance, proven by the fact Israel has now completed four elections in two years, and we still lack the ability to form a coherent government, is not because our electoral system or governmental structure is completely faulty.
Netanyahu is correct Israel faces enormous problems of governance, but the real reason for the problem is Netanyahu himself. If Netanyahu were to step aside, there would be very little problem forming a new coherent and stable government. In all likelihood it would be a center-right-wing government, not to my liking, but it would be stable and would have the support of the majority of the Knesset reflecting the will of the people.
The past four elections have not confronted any of the real issues that face society. Peace and security, settlements, borders, social justice, equality, economy and more have not been raised as issues that the public should have their voice heard on and elect candidates for their positions.
For the past four elections the only genuine issue that the electorate faced is: Netanyahu yes, or Netanyahu no. We don’t need to change the system to come out with results that would enable governance. We need to remove the cog in the wheel that prevents the wheel from spinning – Netanyahu. Once the issue facing the public is no longer Netanyahu yes or no, we will return to the intensive debate necessary to enable Israel to make crucial decisions that it faces.
Correcting the law to prevent an indicted MK from serving as prime minister must be the first order of business in returning Israel to be a country with more ability for governance.
The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. His latest book, In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine, was published by Vanderbilt University Press.