Analysis

Netanyahu's Campaign Against Law Enforcement Has Paid Off. Now He Wants to Complete It

The coalition crisis has made it clear that what's really the concern for Netanyahu is the appointment of the attorney general, state prosecutor and police commissioner

Gidi Weitz
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with his lawyers in Jerusalem District Court.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with his lawyers in Jerusalem District Court for the opening of his criminal trial, May 24, 2020.Credit: Amit Shaabi
Gidi Weitz

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu worked out his strategy to evade trial on the three criminal cases he is entangled in long before he was indicted. Netanyahu told his associates that he was going to conduct a campaign to discredit the law enforcement system, similar to the one U.S. President Donald Trump conducted against the FBI during the investigation into the Russian intervention in the presidential election.

Indeed, for many months the prime minister pulverized the people behind the cases, helped by his sycophants in Likud and in the media. The aggressive campaign paid off.

Over the past year, not a single significant corruption case was discovered in the leadership. The investigation into Netanyahu’s shares is plodding lethargically and even the cases of ministers Arye Dery and Yaakov Litzman, which were opened a very long time ago, have not been concluded yet.

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The attorney general, district prosecutors and heads of the police investigation department are moving sluggishly, as though petrified by those in power. No prosecutor wants his children to receive the vituperative and blasphemous messages that have been sent to the children of Deputy State Attorney Liat Ben-Ari. No investigator wants to undergo the slander campaign that former Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich was subjected to for not looking after the ruler, or to be banished like national fraud squad chief Koresh Bar-Nur, who headed the investigations against the prime minister.

The state prosecution and police are always in need of scrutiny and criticism, correction and restriction of power. A law enforcement system that isn’t under strict supervision is no less dangerous than a ruler with no limits. But this is not the fear driving Netanyahu and his yes-men’s war machine. Israeli society will be paying the price for weakening its antibodies for years after Netanyahu steps off the stage.

Politicians will receive gifts from tycoons, public bids will be tailored for interested parties and vote contractors will be granted government perks. But we won’t know anything about it, because our mechanisms of checks, revision and control have been bashed, crushed and exhausted. That is the real damage that was done here.

The coalition crisis has made it clear that the two-year budget is bothering Netanyahu far less than the way the future gatekeepers – the attorney general, the state prosecutor and the police commissioner – are to be appointed.

As a lesson from the Bar On Hebron affair, which revealed an attempt by minister Arye Dery to choose an attorney general who would help him evade trial for bribery, it was decided to have independent committees appoint the senior gatekeepers and set up supervision and control mechanisms to reduce the politicians’ influence on those who are supposed to investigate and indict them. These walls, which are not tall enough, were built on the understanding that if powerful suspects and guilty individuals tamper with these sensitive appointments, the thin barrier that still separates Israel from banana republics will come crashing down.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit announcing his decision to indict Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit announcing his decision to indict Prime Minister Netanyahu on corruption charges, Nov. 21, 2019.Credit: Emil Salman

When Benny Gantz and Gabi Ashkenazi broke their election promise and enabled Netanyahu to remain in power, they explained that their presence in the government will put them in a position to protect the gatekeepers from the defendant’s attempt to harm them.

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn promised in private conversations that the next state prosecutor would be chosen in the customary procedure and senior Kahol Lavan figures said they would not let Public Security Minister Amir Ohana appoint a spineless puppet as police commissioner. Now, with Netanyahu refusing to sign a conflict of interest agreement that would prevent him from interfering with the appointments, and wanting to make sure the next gatekeepers protect him and those around him, some of his coalition partners are willing to fold even this tattered little banner.

If Likud members and Netanyahu supporters were to shake free from the ongoing seizure that has gripped them for a moment, they’d understand that the involvement of a man charged with crimes in the appointment of his interrogators and prosecutors is a slippery slope from which there is no way back. They’d see that in another political reality, they will be the victims of the system that was intended to help one man escape trial.

A complete sobering up would lead them to the recognition that the prime minister cannot remain in office from the moment an indictment is served against him. The price of this double identity is too heavy. It seems Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit has come to this understanding too, belatedly.

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