Analysis

Netanyahu Continues to Incite Against Investigators, and It Could End in Blood

Twenty-eight years ago, Italian judge Giovanni Falcone was killed by the mafia, after a hate campaign deeply reminiscent of the atmosphere surrounding Netanyahu's trial

Gidi Weitz
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Netanyahu, surrounded by Likud ministers, speaks at the opening of his trial, May 24, 2020.
Netanyahu, surrounded by Likud ministers, speaks at the opening of his trial, May 24, 2020.Credit: AFP
Gidi Weitz

Twenty-eight years ago this Sunday, Giovanni Falcone’s car was racing down the road from the Punta Raisi airport in Palermo to the center of the Sicilian capital. Three cars and seven bodyguards accompanied the Italian investigative judge, who had spent years investigating the ties between the Cosa Nostra and the top ranks of the Christian Democratic party. His wife, Judge Francesca Morvillo, sat beside him in the convoy’s middle car.

“Hell opened up before us,” one of the drivers who survived later testified. “A terrifying explosion ... a scene from the apocalypse ... screams of terror ... an unreal silence.” 

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Falcone, his wife and several bodyguards were killed by the enormous bomb that had been planted by the roadside earlier. But before assassinating him physically, they had assassinated his reputation. 

This is a view of the wrecked cars following a car bomb assassination of anti-Mafia judge Giovanni Falcone in Palermo, Sicily, Saturday, May 24, 1992.

He was the target of delusional smear attacks by self-interested politicians and the usual collaborators with the powerful – the toadying journalists and jurists whom Italian journalist Giorgio Bocca described as “the grotesque and greasy masks of a corrupt and mediocre power.” Falcone’s strongest and most persistent feeling before his death was of extreme isolation.

Liat Ben Ari, the chief prosecutor in the cases against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, climbed the steps to the Jerusalem District Court on Sunday accompanied by several brawny men. Until the investigations into Netanyahu began, she had never been either threatened or guarded, even though she oversaw several criminal cases against wealthy, powerful figures. 

Usually the police officers, prosecutors and judges to whom the state provides bodyguards, and whose cars are checked by sappers every morning, are the ones going after organized crime rings like the Abergil family or Amir Molnar’s gang.

The attorneys who prosecuted former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and former president Moshe Katsav, the police officers who investigated former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, numerous other law enforcement officials who pursued high-level governmental corruption – none of them were ever subjected to threats, curses and ugly demonization on social media like the investigators and prosecutors in Netanyahu’s cases have faced.

Netanyahu has the right to feel that an injustice has been done him and to say so. He has the right to believe that the criminal cases against him should never have been born, to scream that he’s pure as the driven snow and to criticize the decision to put him on trial. He’s entitled to argue that if he’s standing trial for receiving gifts from millionaires and making deals with publishers, half the Knesset should also be in the dock.

Senior State Prosecutor Liat Ben Ari at the Jerusalem District Court before Netanyahu's trial began, May 24, 2020

But while he has the right to defend himself, he has no right to preside like a pyromaniac over an orchestra of obedient, subservient politicians who have forgotten their mission, if they ever had one, and spur them to spend months hammering home the message that the law enforcement system is corrupt and rotten. That it’s conducting a witch hunt and Netanyahu is the target.

In this dangerous line of thinking, Netanyahu is cast as the victim and Ben Ari, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, journalists and, apparently, soon Judge Rivka Friedman-Feldman as well are all cast as the attackers. And it could result in someone who’s seething with rage getting up one day and taking action to save the country from those who are threatening to destroy it, as he sees it, by trying to kill one of the architects of destruction.

We’ve already seen a promo for this scenario in the threatening messages recently sent to Mendelblit: “Don’t forget that you’re vulnerable. ... We’ll also get to your children.”

From time to time, Netanyahu pulls out an archival clip from the 1990s as an alibi. In it, he hushes inflamed demonstrators against then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin by telling them, “Rabin isn’t a traitor. He’s mistaken.” But in the current round, Netanyahu hasn’t had even one moment like that.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit at Tel Aviv University, last January.

He’s not trying to cool tempers; he’s only trying to inflame them further. And in the process, he’s essentially telling everyone that it’s okay to steal, evade taxes and thumb your nose at the law, because the people who enforce it are actually criminals.

On Sunday, as a shameful parade of ministers from his Likud party lined up behind him, he continued to mark his targets, arguing that lawbreaking police officers, plotting prosecutors and dangerous journalists conspired to carry out a coup against him and the entire right. 

Consequently, the writing has been on the wall for weeks, and only a blind man or a fool could fail to see it. If, sometime in the not-so-distant future, someone beats up a journalist, tries to break a bottle over Ben Ari’s head or tries to end the lives of Mendelblit or former State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, responsibility for all of it will rest on one man alone. And perhaps only then will people wake up.

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