Analysis

Netanyahu Bemoans 'Unprecedented' Campaign Against Him. Then Launches Unparalleled Attack

The prime minister seeks to silence any criticism by the justice minister and the media

FILE PHOTO: Netanyahu and Mendelblit during a weekly government meeting in Jerusalem, December 27, 2015
Marc Israel Sellem

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did well for himself when, in response to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit’s remarks on Channel 12 News, he directed the public's attention to the question of precedents in the three criminal investigations against him. Such comments by Mendelblit to the media at such a time have no precedent in Israel, the prime minister said.

We undoubtedly are facing an unprecedented situation in the life of the country. There is no precedent for a prime minister (and his associates) accusing the police, and indirectly the attorney general who issued directives to the police, of a political witch-hunt against him aimed at ousting the prime minister from office.

Bradley Burston describes his visit to the West Bank with settler leader Daniella WeissHaaretz

>> Netanyahu presides over a social media empire. Here's how he runs it ■ Netanyahu's party escalates attack on media with billboard blasting journalists

There is no precedent for a prime minister accusing the attorney general of cowardly surrender like a doormat to a handful of protesters. There is no precedent for the threat that people will take to the streets en masse against decisions made by law enforcement. There is also no precedent for the accusation by a suspect, in this case the prime minister, that law enforcement is handling the suspicions against him too quickly.

As Netanyahu would have it, Mendelblit should keep quiet and permit the prime minister and those in his near orbit to continually wear down public's faith in the rule of law. He should look on and do nothing as the prime minister gradually crushes Israel as a country ruled by law.

But an attorney general who would remain silent in the face of all this is one who would be abusing his office and the public’s trust. Never has there been such a methodical campaign in Israel to mislead, based on the idea that if things are said often enough and insistently enough, they will eventually sink in regardless of their veracity or value.

That, for example, is how the public is fed the baseless idea that bribery can only involve money; and that turning the media into a propaganda machine on behalf of a public servant — which could be more valuable than a payment of money — is not bribery. That, for example, is the view propounded by the prime minister and his defenders, raising other instances in Netanyahu's defense — “What about the actions of so-and-so?” — even when there is no essential similarity between the cases.

This is a pathetic claim by someone who has no real defense. It is designed to spread filth on everything around it on the argument that everyone is corrupt.

It is only Netanyahu and his associates who have taken the liberty in a shamelessly anti-democratic way to delegitimize investigative and critical journalism through personal attacks on the most senior members of the press. The prime minister and his associates make the false claim that the media have appropriated the power to decide who will be elected, as if there is no difference between presenting information and a particular position to the public and deciding for the public and in place of members of the public.

In other words, not only has the right of reply in self-defense been taken from law enforcement. The media are also expected to keep quiet as long as their criticism would be directed at the prime minister. It's the expectation of the prime minister and his supporters that the only viewpoint that should be expressed is: “He is innocent.”

From one angle, Netanyahu’s fury at Mendelblit may be understandable. The prime minister supported Mendelblit's appointment as attorney general on the assumption that he would show Netanyahu the personal loyalty of someone who served as his cabinet secretary and was appointed by the prime minister. With such hopes now being dashed, the attorney general, as an individual and an institution, is now in the crosshairs. The same will hold true for the justice system if Netanyahu is indicted, since anything goes in the war to absolve the prime minister of the suspicions against him.

It's particularly disheartening that Netanyahu is dragging the entire Israeli right wing along with him into a stance the practical implications of which mean support for government corruption and an unbridled assault on law enforcement and the media. This is the same right wing that should be furthering the legacy of Menachem Begin when it comes to the supreme value of freedom of expression and of the law, but it is acting in total opposition to it.

The assault on the rule of law has many aspects to it: Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked who has made it her highest goal, justifying any inappropriate alliance, to defile the justice system by politicizing it; the demands now forthcoming from the right to demolish the Judicial Appointments Committee and totally politicize the selection process, which would mean destroying the justice system as an apolitical, professional and independent institution; and finally the steps the prime minister is taking against law enforcement.

These assaults present a danger that has no precedent for the rule of law and the democratic character of this country. The leaders of the Israeli right wing had better look long and hard at the developments that led to the demise of government by Mapai, the predecessor of the Labor Party.

Even if it doesn't happen immediately, in the medium and long-term, the Israeli public, including the right wing, will be disgusted by government corruption. The public understands that social and political life cannot exist without the rule of law, and there is no point to such a life without freedom. Even if it is delayed, the day of reckoning will come.