In a cynical and thuggish move that in criminal terms would be included in charges of misrepresentation and fraud, the suspect from Balfour Street seized the air time of the major news broadcasts Monday night for his political needs. It was a disaster for truth, statesmanship and proper governance, which the Netanyahu era has trampled on.
The “dramatic” announcement we were told to expect was the procedural argument of a serial suspect in three cases of alleged bribery. It turns out that he had demanded a confrontation with the state’s witnesses and his request was denied. And that they didn’t summon someone who the suspect and his lawyers thought could bolster his case. For this nonsense, which isn’t even new but a few months old, an entire country was tense and preoccupied for several hours.
The manipulation became clear a few minutes after the speech began. From that moment on, the live broadcast was superfluous. Of the three television channels, only one, Channel 10, acted professionally and showed respect for its viewers by cutting off the broadcast and interrupting the outrageous farce.
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Israel Television News and the Kan corporation kept Netanyahu on the air and allowed him to recycle what we’ve heard 4,000 times: News coverage is not bribery (although the attorney general thinks so), the Walla website did not coddle him but rather skewered him, and the other familiar arguments. Indeed, there are judges in Jerusalem, as the suspect declared. Too bad there are no editors in Jerusalem (or Modi’in).
From the incident Monday night we learned that Netanyahu is determined to turn the election campaign into a referendum on his innocence, and what he calls the biased and unfair conduct of law enforcement. From the press conference in Brazil through the "sourpusses" video to prime time on the nightly news, his strategy is clear: The electorate is a grand jury. If, on April 9, he is elected to a fifth term, no matter what is already known and may yet be known, it will mean acquittal. He is innocent!
Netanyahu’s remarks were not directed at the Attorney General’s Office or at the “judges” (whose praise he was not ashamed to lift from Menachem Begin), but at public opinion. He was speaking to those “millions of citizens” who will not accept the attorney general’s decision to indict, as his mouthpiece, David Amsalem, threatened.
This is the campaign he will be conducting for the next 92 days. It will be conducted in the media, mainstream and otherwise. The man who whines about the media’s kangaroo court is taking his legal campaign to the media, which submits to him time after time. He exploits it like the Concubine on the Hill.
The time has come to deny him the right to broadcast live. Make him send a video an hour before air time, so that the decision on whether to broadcast, when and for how long will be that of the editors. Where there are editors.
It is reasonable to assume that people unfamiliar with the fine points of the law were impressed by what he said. Why didn’t they let him confront Nir Hefetz, Shlomo Filber and Ari Harow, or at least some of them, Mr. Israeli will say to Mrs. Israeli. That’s all Netanyahu wanted to achieve – to have some of those who will bother to go to the polls arrive there with the feeling that he had been done an injustice, that he was treated wrongly, that he was a victim.
Through his thick layer of makeup one could see the pallor. His eyes were dull, his body language conveyed worry. He knows that an indictment will be filed and that a conviction will send him to prison. The train toward a lenient plea bargain has already left the station. The path is clear; the question is, how long will it continue?
The disgraceful spin we witnessed Monday night is only part of what Netanyahu has up his sleeve. A month-and-a-half ago he scared an entire nation when he warned of a difficult war that would cause casualties, which turned out to be a (successful) trick aimed at preventing immediate elections by foiling Naftali Bennett’s planned resignation from the government.
Then, when he came to the conclusion that early elections served his legal interest, he advanced them on false pretenses. Later he used the timing to warn Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit not to make any decisions on his cases during the election campaign.
And there are still 92 days left.
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