Opinion |

Counter the Prime Minister’s Assault on the Rule of Law

Uzi Baram
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, February 17, 2019.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, February 17, 2019.Credit: Sebastian Scheiner/Pool via Reuters
Uzi Baram

When Benjamin Netanyahu finishes his term as prime minister, no one will be able to deny his accomplishments and his international standing, but the primary legacy he will leave will be the methodical use of incitement. The objective is to deepen the rifts between different parts of the population by using derogatory terms against the left and the media and marking them as traitors.

Now that these labels have been internalized by the public, Netanyahu hopes they will rescue him from the long arm of the law, which has a full wagon of evidence on its side. Netanyahu has already seen one prime minister imprisoned and he doesn’t want to be the second. To avoid this fate he is prepared to drag some of the nation into a campaign against the legal system.

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This campaign has a clear and unified message, to which the well-policed Likud party submits: “The left and the media are forcing the attorney general to indict Netanyahu on the eve of the election.” The aim is to create the feeling that a planned and malicious campaign is being waged against Netanyahu.

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We are standing at a crossroads. We must understand that this message must be countered with an unambiguous and unapologetic response. The response that party heads and politicians will deliver isn’t enough, certainly before the election, because its credibility will be questioned by a suspicious public.

Therefore, the first person who must declare that he is immune to pressure is Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, a former close associate of Netanyahu’s, who pushed for his appointment because he believed Mendelblit would rescue him from the investigations. But to date the attorney general has refused to do this.

He should be joined by jurists, former judges and attorneys, who must explain to the public that the campaign being waged by Netanyahu and the right is nothing more than a threat to the rule of law and an attempt to block the discovery of truth and the execution of judgment. They must remind the public that never before have incumbent ministers, including the public security minister, called to squelch the legal system, aided by the cries of the masses ignited on the social networks, sometimes for money.

In response, Netanyahu and his people will hold mass rallies where the people will shout his innocence and oppose the leftist and media plot. The atmosphere is liable to become heated, because although Benjamin Netanyahu’s generation still has some restraints stemming from their education and upbringing, his son Yair’s generation does not.

The response by the legal system, by respected elders and former Likud officials must be eloquent and persuasive. They must remind the public that Netanyahu’s career has been strewn with “affairs,” from the Amedi case – (when the Netanyahus were suspected of using state funds for work on their private residence) from which he was saved by the skin of his teeth, with then Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein condemning their norms of behavior but sparing them criminal charges – through today. There has been affair after affair.

To any disinterested observer it’s clear that the behavior of Netanyahu and his family skirts the gray line between criminality and the hedonism of “we’re allowed.” When even more serious cases were uncovered, Netanyahu and his supporters had no response other than to incite.

This is not a battle against Netanyahu. It’s a battle for the image of the country. It must be demonstrated that every wave of rising populism has a response that is grounded in the norms on which the State of Israel was founded.

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