Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his response to the police’s recommendation to prosecute him for bribery in two cases, tried to pull the wool over Israelis’ eyes. Although every person who is questioned, suspected and accused is entitled to a presumption of innocence, Netanyahu can certainly be convicted of putting together the most corrupt government in Israel’s history. For that alone he no longer has the moral right to ask for voters’ confidence.
Now he faces a tough, even cruel decision. It seems that if the prime minister’s lawyers suggest to Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit that Netanyahu will resign, commit not to return to public life and agree to do community service, a prosecution would be unnecessary. If his lawyers don’t suggest this, it’s possible that the lavish-gifts and Yedioth Ahronoth cases are just the preview of other indictments. Meanwhile, in the submarine and Bezeq cases, there is vast potential for someone to turn state’s evidence.
Yes, to borrow a phrase from Netanyahu, if there was nothing there will be nothing. But in the two cases in which recommendations have been made, Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, senior police officers and a senior prosecutor like Liat Ben Ari found evidence of 1 million shekels ($283,000) in bribes and a despicable suggestion to seize control of the print-media market.
Netanyahu’s questioning in the case of the submarine procurement from Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems could quickly turn into questioning under caution – that is, with Netanyahu as a suspect. This is even more the case in the Bezeq affair, where the police are investigating whether the relationship between the Communications Ministry – a portfolio Netanyahu previously held – and the telecom company was too close due to Netanyahu’s friendship with Bezeq’s controlling shareholder, Shaul Elovitch.
If ultra-loyal aide Shula Zaken publicized her loathsome conversation with Ehud Olmert, leading him to be convicted of obstructing justice, who can assure Netanyahu that there’s no one like her in the cases still being investigated? No one being questioned is as close to Netanyahu as Zaken was to Olmert.
But Netanyahu has yet to realize this. His desire to rule is too strongly rooted in him, although one can assume that even he feels that his friends are viewing him differently. He will always find some Miri Regev or David Amsalem to speak nonsense, as if a political rival who gives evidence were a “snitch” whose act was “grave.”
But even Netanyahu understands that what was is no longer, and it will only get worse. On Wednesday, Channel 13’s Avri Gilad announced that he plans to release the long list of Netanyahu supporters who were invited to the studio to defend him but who refused to show. And this is just the beginning.
Now Mendelblit and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan have entered the picture. They will continue to oversee the Netanyahu investigations, but in these two cases there is no longer a barrier between them and a decision on the prime minister. The hot potatoes are now solely in their hands.
They should be allowed to consider the evidence calmly, and Netanyahu’s lawyers must be permitted to review the material at length in preparation for a hearing; all this will indeed take time. But it’s impossible to ignore that Netanyahu’s actions and the wholesale corruption that has already been proved in his inner sanctum have created an unbearable situation and weakened his standing around the world.
Justice and law should not back down so that Netanyahu can rehabilitate his standing. He’s the one who must withdraw, certainly as a person who presents himself as having only Israel’s best interests at heart.
Therefore, the process must be expedited. There can be no delay. The fact that a prime minister is willing to exploit the law to stay in power without any benefit to the people condemns him.
Who will replace him? The prophet Samuel told King Saul, “‘The Lord hath rent the Kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbor of thine that is better than thou.” In the Israeli reality, anyone Likud chose as a successor would in the first week receive around 2 percent support. But if he acted reasonably his support would shoot up by a double-digit percentage. It happened to Golda Meir. It could happen to a Likudnik as well.
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