Analysis

Decision to Indict Netanyahu Exposes Israel's Double Rule

On stage, we see players like the government and media outlets, but the real authority is behind the scenes. This is Netanyahu's true legacy

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives to deliver a statement to the media in his residency in Jerusalem, February 28, 2019.
Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Millions of words have been written and uttered in television broadcasts about Benjamin Netanyahu; entire biographies have been produced and documentary films have been made about the life and rule of the Israeli premier. Not a single one of these oeuvres has described the conduct of the prime minister and his court as transparently as the draft indictment sent to him by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit on Thursday.

Reading this document, which one could dub a documentary-like novella, removes the wraps of officiality, statesmanship and security that have been enveloping the symbols of the Israeli rule. The document presents Netanyahu as he really carries himself behind the closed doors of his bureau and official residence on Balfour Street: A greedy miser who is moved by an unstoppable lust for power.

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After reading Mendelblit's document, it seems that the country's textbooks on political sciences and civic life should be rewritten. It appears that there is a double rule in Israel. On stage, we see players like the Knesset, the government, the political parties and media outlets, but the real authority is behind the scenes.

It is there where those with true power act: Wealthy people can walk into the prime minister's office whenever they like and steer media coverage to fit their interests; clerics defined as public servants act as the big boss' servants; big wigs connect between the money and the power. And everything is covered by false statements and deceiving tricks.

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The conclusion that arises from Mendelblit's draft indictment against the prime minister is simple: Netanyahu survived as premier for longer than the others because he tried harder than they did to tie all the loose ends and control every single detail. He is not willing to let any inhibition or legal constraint get in the way of his goal.

He rewrites every statement to the media, edits television interviews and pens headlines about himself and his family. No detail is too small for him, and at the same time, the rules on conflict of interest and proper conduct are deemed by the prime minister an inconsequential nuisance, a punishment for suckers. Those who bother him are unseated or neutralized.

Like his double rule — the one that is visible to the eye and the one that goes on behind closed doors — Netanyahu, too, has two acts. On the one hand, he presents himself as the ideologue who was elected to establish a "strong right-wing government" that won't give up the West Bank, the close friend of world leaders who promises Israel safety and prosperity. But on the other hand there is a political bully who sees anyone who jeopardizes him as a messenger of the "dangerous left" that is plotting to turn the flourishing Israel into a military cemetery.

Tonight, prosecutors Liat Ben Ari and Shai Nitzan got a taste of this approach when they were marked as "left" by the prime minister only because they recommended that indictments be filed against Netanyahu for bribery. Mendelblit, who softened this recommendation, was presented by the premier as a weakling and a victim of the "left," and it's not so hard to guess why: Now the case is at the hands of the attorney general, who could soften it even further before it reaches a hearing in court. Therefore, Mendelblit can't be turned into the enemy — he can only be duly insulted.

The draft indictment shows that it's all an act, that even those who were presented by Netanyahu as dangerous enemies like Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes can actually be recurring partners in political deals, that the real election campaign has been going on in backchannels and that there is no significance to things like principles or an agenda.

What really matters is for Netanyahu to remain the ruler, like he promised tonight. To accomplish that he will slander and destroy any national institution or value. Netanyahu will be toppled eventually and replaced with a different prime minister, but even after he is gone, it would be very hard to convince the Israeli public that the government ought to act transparently and not in dirty and deceptive ways. This is Netanyahu's true legacy, which Mendelblit partially unveiled with his indictment draft tonight.