The opening of Netanyahu’s trial – in search of justice or a vendetta

Grosso modo Netanyahu’s position is that, in general, the whole legal process against him has no justification or legitimacy.

Supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the court, the sign in the middle says 'Dreyfus Trial'   (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside the court, the sign in the middle says 'Dreyfus Trial'
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
This article was written before the trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, opened on Sunday, and therefore does not relate to what occurred on that occasion.
What it deals with is Netanyahu’s attitude to the whole process leading up to the trial, and his direct and indirect incitement against the law enforcement authorities (from the police to the State Attorney’s Office, and the attorney-general personally), and the media incitement which has an avid audience among his admirers and the Israeli Right in general, and which is responsible for numerous individuals being provided with special security protection, including the attorney-general and the prosecutor in Netanyahu’s case, who have been subject to personal threats.
Grosso modo Netanyahu’s position is that all the charges against him have no basis in reality (in this his approach is no different from that of former president Moshe Katsav, who was convicted of rape, and of former prime minister Ehud Olmert, who was convicted of receiving something on false pretenses under aggravating circumstances, fraud and breach of trust); that the activities of the law enforcement authorities serve the “just not Bibi” political campaign; that his activities and modus operandi are no different from those of numerous other politicians, but that charges are never brought against those from the Center-Left; and that in general the whole legal process against him has no justification or legitimacy.
At the beginning of Netanyahu’s Via Dolorosa, when the Amedi affair emerged toward the end of the 1990s (the case involved the services provided to the Netanyahus by a contractor named Avner Amedi, which seemed highly irregular), I was inclined to believe that the Netanyahus’ “slips” were the result of ignorance or lack of attention that ought to be dealt with by some guidance by the Prime Minister’s Office attorneys, regarding the laws, regulations and rules of ethics that apply to the prime minister and his ménage.
However, as time went by, my initial opinion proved to be naive. To the present day both Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, seem to believe that there is nothing wrong with their trying to get the state to pay for various items of their private expenses, and that their relations of give-and-take with extremely wealthy or powerful personalities cannot be considered bribery any way one looks at them.
Since Netanyahu’s involvement in what is known as the Submarines Affair – a case concerning the purchase by Israel of submarines and other naval vessels from the German corporation Thyssenkrupp, which involved corruption on the part of several Israeli figures, but also the security of the State of Israel – was never investigated, and will apparently never be investigated due to the statute of limitations, we shall never know what Netanyahu thinks about this affair, beyond his denial that there was any direct involvement on his part in it.
The problem with Netanyahu’s position is that it does not seem to be supported by hard facts (though such facts might emerge in the course of the trial), and that it is based on either authentic paranoia or deliberate, unfounded accusations against the law enforcement authorities, designed to get Netanyahu off the hook.
So far, Netanyahu has been unsuccessful in stopping the progression of the process, as demonstrated by the opening of the trial yesterday, but has been fully successful in foiling all attempts to declare him unqualified to continue to stand at the head of the government, with three indictments against him (the existing law in Israel on this issue is undoubtedly on his side, even if one may argue that in this case “the law is an ass”).
So far, Netanyahu and his attorneys have been unsuccessful in most of their requests relating to the actual running of his case. Thus, they were unsuccessful in attempts to get the initial hearing, before the indictments were actually served, to be broadcast live, which would have turned the hearing into a circus rather than a serious procedure.
Most recently they failed to get permission for Netanyahu not to be present at the opening of his trial, on the pretexts that the opening of the trial is a technical matter in which the charge sheet is presented, and the defendant announces that he has read it and understands what is said in it, and that Netanyahu’s arrival with all his security personnel would be extremely costly to the state (the first time ever that Netanyahu seems concerned with imposing on the public purse).
Both the State Attorney’s Office and the three judges who will be sitting on the bench in his trial admitted that while the opening of the trial is a technical matter, it was important that Netanyahu be present so that justice not only be done but be seen to be done, “and public trust in the fairness and equality of the criminal process to all defendants” be fortified. Though there are rare cases in which a defendant is excused from appearing at the opening of their trial, both the State Attorney’s Office and the judges felt that on this occasion there was no justification for this, and that Netanyahu must publicly demonstrate his acceptance of the fact that he is on trial, even if he continues to deny all the charges against him, and not in a game of hide-and-seek with the legal authorities.
Of course, one can understand Netanyahu’s wish to avoid being photographed by the press and electronic media sitting on the defendants’ bench in the courtroom as the charges against him are read out. When Olmert was on trial, he avoided entering the courtroom, or actually sitting down, before the press left the chamber.
One can expect Netanyahu and his attorneys to continue to play every conceivable trick to prevent his portrayal as a defendant in a trial, and obviously also to try to show the legal case against him to be groundless.
It is to be hoped, however, that all this will be done in a levelheaded manner, and not in a manner designed to degrade the legal system in the eyes of the public, and encourage the latter to go out on a vendetta against those who believe that Netanyahu must stand trial for crimes he is suspected of having committed, just like everyone else.
The problem is that many of Netanyahu’s supporters appear to believe that he is “an outstanding personality” who deserves to stand above the law, at least as long as he is not accused of heinous crimes.
If Netanyahu and his attorneys will manage to repel the state’s case or at least parts of it – let it be. But it must be done honestly, and at the end of the process Netanyahu must accept responsibility for whatever wrongdoing he might be found to have committed. The charges are serious and backed by vast quantities of evidence, and a complete acquittal is unlikely.

Tags court Trial