Think About It: The rule of law and the coming election

The results of the election will also depend on how large a segment of the population believes that popular men of power deserve to get away with transgressions.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a weekly cabinet meeting, December 23rd, 2018 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a weekly cabinet meeting, December 23rd, 2018
The case of the head of the Israel Bar Association, attorney Efi Nave, appears to me to be symptomatic of the current zeitgeist and the general atmosphere within which the campaign toward the election to the 21st Knesset will take place.
Nave was recently caught at Ben-Gurion Airport trying to smuggle his girlfriend into Israel without her presenting her passport. A week earlier he was successful in smuggling her out of Israel in the same sneaky way. His excuse for this illegal and rather stupid act was that since he is involved in an ugly divorce case, he didn’t want the fact that he had traveled to Thailand with his girlfriend to become known to his wife.
Nave did not deny what he had done (he was caught red-handed), but then seemed surprised that the State Attorney’s Office decided to indict him.
“What I did was extremely stupid,” he admitted in an interview with Ilana Dayan on her TV program Uvdah last week. “But what was involved? Nothing more than avoiding to pass a passport through a machine. Any other citizen would have been let off.”
Nave doesn’t seem to understand that as head of the Bar he is expected to act impeccably, and that smuggling a person into Israel – even if the person is not a terrorist – is a criminal offense, which at best demonstrates poor judgment on his part. The right thing for him to have done was to resign immediately from his position. Instead, he only suspended himself from his participation in the Judicial Selection Committee, of which he is a central and influential member, while claiming that even though what he had done was stupid, there was no reason for him to be indicted.
Why did the State Attorney’s Office decide to indict him? Nave explained that this was due to his political profile (he is very close to Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, and supported all her choices for new Supreme Court justices), his communal origins (he was born as Efraim Nab’a, to Iraqi parents), and the fact that State Attorney Shai Nitzan is trying to take revenge, because he found out that Nave does not support his being selected to the Supreme Court after he ends his term as state attorney.
In other words, the charismatic, aggressive and blunt Nave blames the old elites, who allegedly hate right-wingers and Mizrahim – especially those who have been successful – for his self-inflicted predicament.
What is most surprising is that none of his colleagues in the Bar appear to have openly admonished Nave or to have demanded his resignation.
IN MANY ways this reminds me of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attitude toward his own self-inflicted legal predicaments. To begin from the end, Netanyahu, too, blames the old elites, for being willing to use any means (including the publication of information, legal procedures, and a putsch by means of elections) to bring down the right-wing government which he heads. In addition, he has found all sorts of convoluted ways of accusing or threatening all the upholders of the rule of law (all of whom were appointed during his tenure of office) for daring to consider to indict him, contrary to the wishes of the voters.
Where Netanyahu differs from Nave is that he is unwilling to admit any wrongdoing, even though there seems to be almost complete consensus in the top echelons of both the police and the State Attorney’s Office that there is a solid basis for charges on breach of trust in case 1000, and bribery in cases 2000 and 4000.
Two prime ministers in Israel resigned due to suspicions of wrongdoing – Yitzhak Rabin in 1977 and Ehud Olmert in 2009. Not only has Netanyahu failed to consider resigning immediately, he has made it known that he does not plan to resign even if it is decided to indict him.
His henchmen – especially coalition chairman MK David Amsalem – are actually openly inciting the Likud hard core to go out and demonstrate against a decision before the election by Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit to indict Netanyahu. The incitement has already resulted in unknown persons desecrating the gravestone of Mandelblit’s father.
What does all this have to do with the results of the election to the 21st Knesset? I must say that my own gut feeling is that no matter what, the Likud will win this election, and that given Netanyahu’s mood, this is going to turn into the filthiest election campaign that Israel has ever known, with vicious attacks on anyone opposed to Netanyahu, or who doubts his total innocence, and “fake news” galore. The Left and the Center will undoubtedly answer in kind.
All the various opinion polls show the Likud remaining way ahead of all the other lists that are likely to contend in the next election, with 30 Knesset seats.
HOWEVER, THERE are at least three major unknowns at this juncture that could overturn these predictions.
The first is that quite a few existing parties might not pass the 3.25% qualifying threshold, and disappear. These include Shas, Yisrael Beytenu and Meretz, and some of the components of the United Arab List, should the list fall apart (as it may well do). Orly Levy-Abecassis’s new party, Gesher, is also wavering, and if former Shas leader Eli Yishai decides to resuscitate his party from the previous election, Yahad, no one knows how it will fare, given the dismal condition of Shas. It looks like the Right will lose more votes on these grounds than the Left – it usually does. But who knows?
The second unknown is how the Center-Left will get organized for the election. At the moment, the situation is a mess. Both Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) and Avi Gabbay (Labor) are pretending to be oblivious to the threat that former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz poses to each of them – but are they?
At the same time, nobody knows what Gantz and his new party, Hosen L’Yisrael (Israel Resilience) actually stand for, except “just not Bibi.” Gantz’s attraction is in his good looks; the fact that he doesn’t talk, so he doesn’t utter all sorts of nonsense; that he doesn’t swagger, doesn’t smoke cigars, doesn’t associate with billionaires with vested interests, doesn’t have ridiculous hairdos, doesn’t use thick makeup, and is said to have a perfectly normative wife. All this, of course, isn’t enough.
The question is whether he can get votes from the Right, and not only from the Center-Left. The answer will become clearer after we find out who will be joining him, and what he actually has to say once he breaks his silence.
The third unknown was added two days ago, when Bayit Yehudi leaders Shaked and Naftali Bennett announced that they were leaving their party and establishing a right-wing religious-secular party, to be called the New Right. Only God knows what this will do to the National Religious camp, on the one hand, and the secular Right, on the other.
But to return to the issue of Nave’s and Netanyahu’s legal predicaments. The results of the election will also depend on how large a segment of the population believes that popular men of power deserve to get away with minor, or even not so minor transgressions, and doesn’t really give a damn about the rule of law, and equality under the law in a democracy.
I fear that contempt for the rule of law is much more prevalent in present-day Israel than it ought to be.