Analysis

Now That Netanyahu Has Been Indicted, It's Time for His Real Test: Is He Going to Resign?

Regardless of the legal norm, which will probably require a High Court of Justice ruling, the public-moral norm is clear and compels the prime minister to step down

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacts during a meeting of the right-wing bloc at the Knesset in Jerusalem on November 20, 2019.
AFP

Anyone who was deceived by the disinformation campaign of Netanyahu and his defenders might have expected an earthquake – the complete collapse of the Netanyahu cases. But this expectation wasn’t shared by those who did not believe the declarations fueling this campaign. It was clear that the efforts to save Netanyahu had no relation to the truth and that Netanyahu and his cohorts would go to any lengths to help him avoid facing justice.

Each one of the offenses he is charged with is grave in itself, no less because the offenses were carried out systematically and over a long period of time by the prime minister of Israel himself. The offenses in the Bezeq-Walla bribery case (dubbed Case 4000) are especially grave.

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The combination of the three cases creates a heavy mass of unprecedented government corruption. A black flag now flies over the residence on Balfour Street.

The attorney general’s decision casts not a cloud but a huge shadow over the prime minister. This shadow also lies over the state and over all of us, because this is our prime minister. This is also a moment for pride in our law enforcement system, which didn’t surrender to the delegitimization campaign against it and based its decision on the professional judgment and public responsibility it is bound to. This is a day of victory for the rule of law and equality before the law.

The ball is now in Netanyahu’s court. What he owes Israel’s citizens is an immediate resignation. Regardless of the legal norm, which will probably require a High Court of Justice ruling, the public-moral norm is clear and compels his resignation. In this way he can atone for his reckless conduct regarding the investigations against him.

Clinging to the prime minister’s seat will leave an indelible stain on his name. He will enter history as one who preferred his personal, illegitimate interest (to evade going on trial for his acts) over Israel’s well-being.

Everything he did for the state won’t help erase this stain. The lack of justification to hold onto his seat is compounded because Netanyahu isn’t serving as a prime minister who got a mandate from the public through the Knesset. He is the prime minister of a caretaker government who failed twice in his attempt to form a government, after having pushed the state twice into elections for personal considerations.

Netanyahu’s remaining in office will exacerbate the conflict of interests he’s been in for three years between his personal affairs and the law enforcement system. The rotten fruit of this situation – systematic harassment of the law enforcement agencies, the casting of false accusations and lies at them in a way that undermines public confidence in them, without which they cannot exist. Even worse, Netanyahu the defendant will not be able to benefit from the public’s confidence in any move he makes, including security matters involving risk to the state, its citizens and soldiers. Apart from his blind followers, nobody will be able to avoid suspecting that his status as a defendant has a conscious or unconscious effect on his conduct.

Even if the defense establishment vouches for his dedication, it won’t be able to remove this suspicion. The basic social pact between the prime minister and the people is destroyed under this suspicion. His performance as prime minister will inevitably be hindered by the demands of the conduct of his defense. This is why the justice system created arrangements to avoid the intolerable situation of a sitting prime minister who is charged with crimes. This is also the basic idea of the incapacitation schedule proposed by the state’s president. It’s not possible that what every child understands should not be clear to the prime minister and his loyalists.

If Netanyahu remains in his position while being indicted for crimes, he will set a bad example for all the people, especially for the young, because the public looks up to him. Israel’s image in the world will also be badly tainted. The court will have difficulty doing justice by a presiding prime minister. Perhaps this is exactly what he is aiming for, but this is an improper consideration that he must not act on.

Netanyahu is presumed innocent as a defendant, but this presumption cannot justify his remaining in his position as prime minister, after a critical mass of evidence has accumulated against him. This mass is sufficient to disqualify him from office – from the public point of view. One cannot ignore that the indictment is served after an extremely thorough examination in advance of the draft indictment and in the wake of the pre-indictment hearing. The prime minister had a full opportunity during his questioning to thwart the suspicions against him, and failed. Another opportunity was given to his lawyers at the hearing, and they couldn’t change the essential picture.

At the same time, Netanyahu and his lawyers exposed his line of defense, leaving him with no card up his sleeve. The fact that the state prosecution heads have put their weight behind the indictment is very significant.

Nobody can suspect Mendelblit of acting out of hostility to the prime minister, or of acting hastily or of being eager to indict the prime minister. The opposite is true.

The prime minister rightly stressed the need for a unity government. It’s strange to hear this from one who competes with Avigdor Lieberman in inciting against the Arab public. But a unity government is needed in view of the great challenges we face, and in view of the ideological proximity between Likud and Kahol Lavan. The obstacle to a unity government is Netanyahu, so he must step aside and remove this impediment.

If he doesn’t do so willingly, this will be the critical test of his ministers and party MKs to show him the way out – for their sake, for our sake, even for his sake. The public, which wants the good of the state, must step up to protect the rule of law and the law enforcement agencies. Those who plan to act against them should be warned they will be driven out of town and held in eternal disgrace.