The recommendation of Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit to file an indictment against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for bribery has provoked both support and criticism in political systems here in Israel and around the world.
To be honest, I have never voted for Netanyahu, and I doubt that I would have done so in the coming elections. My decision is not because I think he is a bad prime minister. On the contrary, he was a pretty good one. As others have asserted, under Netanyahu, Israel’s economy prospered, its diplomatic horizons expanded, its borders were protected, and its enemies were humiliated. Without giving irreversible concessions to the Palestinians, Netanyahu won a strong shoulder from the American administration under President Trump on both the Iranian nuclear issue and the transfer of the American Embassy to Jerusalem.
Yet the fact that Netanyahu refrains from making strategic decisions for the State of Israel that will ensure its future as a Jewish and democratic state, and has not served as a national figure – one that unites all parts of the Israeli people – prevents me from supporting him and his party. Most importantly, I truly argue that a prime minister should not serve more than two terms in office. Otherwise, he becomes addicted to power and thinks only about his personal survival.
Even worse, the elections, which are the most important tool in a democratic system, have become a political tool in the hands of Netanyahu who has already proved that there is no problem in his going to early elections when something does not work out for him within the political system.
Netanyahu is running for a fifth term in office. The Americans learned a long time ago that not limiting a president’s term could lead to dictatorship. Even if enlightened, an unlimited president’s office might concentrate too much authority, seriously jeopardizing the principle of separation of powers. Thus in 1951, the American law was changed, and a president was limited to two terms. Thus, in order to reduce the potential for corruption in the Israeli political system, it would be appropriate to consider how to limit the term of office of prime ministers, ministers and Knesset members.
Despite the heavy suspicions against Netanyahu, it appears that he is right on two key issues.
First, although Netanyahu’s claim that the attorney-general’s decision stems from electoral considerations and from the desire to overthrow a right-wing government is baseless. After all, it was Netanyahu who pushed for early elections in April instead of November. And it is reasonable to assume the knowledge that Mandelblit was going to recommend an indictment against him was probably the main reason for his move. The demand that he should resign following the indictment is completely unfair.
The reason for this is that the Israeli Basic Law of the Government (Articles 17-18) requires the prime minister to resign from office only when the court has finally ruled that he is guilty. However – without even conducting a hearing for Netanyahu, after which the attorney-general will decide definitively whether to indict, a decision that will be probably reached only at the beginning of 2020 – the prime minister has already been declared de facto guilty in most of the Israeli media without any formal decision to prosecute. This is the same media that decided 15 years ago to handle prime minister Ariel Sharon – who was surrounded by a thick cloud of investigations and indictments – with kid gloves, due to his willingness to execute the disengagement plan from the Gaza Strip (a plan that in my opinion only strengthened the State of Israel in the long run).
Second, despite the fact that politicians and journalists interact, which is acceptable and even desirable, Netanyahu is absolutely right when he says that – while investigations are being conducted against him for receiving sympathetic coverage from one media outlet – the State Prosecutor’s Office chooses to ignore a number of politicians who allegedly tried to liquidate Israel Hayom newspaper in order to receive sympathetic coverage from its main rival, Yediot Aharonot.
In fact, while in the past there was a tendency of the Israeli media toward the center-left side of the political map in Israel, today the Israeli media are more pluralistic than ever. Thus, the elimination of Israel Hayom would not only have harmed the Israeli media and the freedom of information, but would have also provided enormous capital and public power to Yediot Aharonot’s publisher.
In conclusion, Netanyahu might be corrupt, and if he is, he must be imprisoned. Yet he is a product of the Israeli political system that does not limit the tenure of its members. At the same time, politicians have connections with capitalists and journalists, and this is the norm in Israeli politics. And as long as these connections are exercised according to the law, it is not wrong. Therefore, it is appropriate for the State Prosecutor’s Office to investigate all suspicions, regardless of which side of the political spectrum is involved, and to do everything in its power to fight those who corrupt the political system in Israel. Otherwise, the Israeli public will think the State Prosecutor’s Office is operating on a political agenda, which will cause this honorable institution to lose public trust.
The writer is a PhD candidate at the University of South Wales, and formerly a foreign affairs and political adviser to Isaac Herzog, deputy chairman of the Labor Party Youth, and a candidate on the Labor Knesset list.