Netanyahu’s Defense Strategy Is to Undermine His Accuser, the State of Israel

Netanyahu’s trial starts as his war on the country’s legal establishment reaches fever pitch

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairing the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, February 9, 2020.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairing the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, February 9, 2020. Credit: AFP
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

The Judgment of Solomon in the Book of Kings deals with two women, described as harlots, who both gave birth to sons. When one dies, both claim the survivor as their own. They come to the wise King Solomon, who offers to solve the dispute by slicing the disputed infant in two. That settles it.

King Solomon rules in favor of the woman who cried out in protest and relinquished her claim to motherhood in order to save her son’s life. He rules against the mother who goaded him on, saying: ‘It shall be neither mine nor thine; divide it.’

No mother who truly loves her offspring would agree to see it cut to pieces, under any circumstance, the king reasoned, and all were filled with awe at his infinite wisdom.

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Benjamin Netanyahu has chosen to be the merciless one. He could have shown compassion for the State of Israel by taking a leave of absence and answering to the legal charges leveled against him like any other citizen. That’s what his predecessors would have done. In fact, it’s what responsible leaders in most democracies would have done, at least those who truly love their country.

Bibi swears in his colossal coalition and readies for a courtroom showdown

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Netanyahu, on the other hand, decided to wage war against Israel’s legal institutions – and to tear his people apart in the process. That’s what you expect from leaders who adore themselves far more than the state they’ve sworn to serve and protect.

Netanyahu’s criminal trial, which opens in Jerusalem on Sunday, might be officially known as “The State of Israel vs. Benjamin Netanyahu,” but a no less accurate and potentially far more menacing moniker would be “Benjamin Netanyahu vs. The State of Israel.”

But while the accused Netanyahu is free as a bird, at the height of his success and still enjoys a presumption of innocence, the State of Israel, represented by the attorney general and the State Attorney’s Office, comes to the trial beleaguered, besieged and in the eyes of a growing part of the public, guilty by definition, beyond a reasonable doubt.

Netanyahu enters the ring on Sunday at the peak of his powers after breaking up his opposition and securing his fifth appointment as prime minister. He’s got Israel’s ruling party and half of its cabinet and parliament willing to do whatever it takes to intimidate Netanyahu’s accusers and judges. And he’s got a dangerous mob behind him, baying for action, praying for a pretext.

The public prosecutors of the State Attorney’s Office, on the other hand, have been subjected to an ongoing campaign of fabrications and falsehoods depicting them, in essence, as enemies of the people and instruments of evil design. Senior legal officials are increasingly being assigned a security detail, as if Israel was now Sicily in the days of Cosa Nostra. Netanyahu’s three judges are facing the challenge of their lifetime, to say the least.

A leader with any compassion for his people would have vacated his chair, certainly after being formally indicted by his own attorney general, in order to quickly prove the innocence he so emphatically proclaims – and to spare his country the trials and tribulations that Netanyahu has inflicted on Israel over the past few years. Instead of letting Israel get on with its affairs while he takes care of his, Netanyahu insisted on entering the court as prime minister and thus dragging the entire country along with him.

If Netanyahu truly loved Israel – like the “true” mother who cherished her newborn son – he would have acknowledged the supremacy of the rule of law, which he used to praise and swear by, before he became its suspect.  Instead, he has conducted a divisive and destructive campaign that had already taken a heavy toll even before his formal summons on Sunday to the Jerusalem District Court for a preliminary presentation of his indictment. And it seems to be going from bad to worse.

Netanyahu is waging war on anyone and anything that stands in his way, including the law, the judiciary, the media, truth, justice, logic and decency itself. He has defamed and demonized, directly and by proxy, the police, the Justice Ministry, the attorney general and, very soon, his own judges. He has dangerously undermined public confidence in the rule of law itself.

Over the past year, Netanyahu imposed three superfluous election campaigns on the country, all stemming from his personal legal strategies. He finally constructed, with the help of the hapless Benny Gantz, a political monstrosity with an endless list of ludicrous ministers in charge of ridiculous portfolios. Public esteem for politics and politicians is also at an all-time low, and it’s always near rock bottom.

Perhaps most ominously, Netanyahu and his collaborators are transporting a growing chunk of the public into a dangerous world of paranoid delusions, dark “Deep State” conspiracies and cynically concocted narratives of a nefarious Ashkenazi hegemony subduing “the people” by liquidating their chosen leader Netanyahu. If it were anywhere but Israel, the anti-Semitic contours of the Netanyahu line would be hard to miss.

They have convinced masses of Israelis that Netanyahu is the victim of a plot, for which not one shred of evidence has been produced or found. They have fomented and exploited ever-growing distrust toward the state and its institutions. They have intimidated and tamed growing parts of the Israeli media, which now gives equal time to the right wing’s cockamamie conspiracy theories in the name of balance.

Netanyahu’s trial should worry anyone who cares about Israel’s future stability and wellbeing. It is certainly a show trial, as Netanyahu’s defenders claim, but vice versa: the show is all Netanyahu’s. He’s literally the only one in the arena and thus the only one making noise.

And while the Jerusalem District Court will need to hear witnesses and evaluate evidence before reaching its verdict, in the eyes of history, Netanyahu’s guilt is unequivocal. He has conspired against his state, weakened its institutions, divided its public and undermined the foundations of democratic life itself, all in an effort to save himself.

In the court of King Solomon, allegedly the wisest man who ever lived, Netanyahu would have likely been shamed and exposed within minutes.

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