Opinion

Netanyahu's Illegal Experiment

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on after delivering a statement in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv, Israel September 10, 2019.
AMIR COHEN / Reuters

When it appeared on Monday as though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has failed (at least so far) in his desperate attempt to recruit U.S. President Donald Trump to his side, it became clear that the Likud-sponsored uproar surrounding the use of cameras at polling stations was designed for one purpose: To conduct a dry run. With the illegal step of disobeying the attorney general and the court’s decisions, Netanyahu is checking how determined are the public, the police and the legal apparatus to resist him in the event that he loses the election and decides not to accept the outcome.

The concrete reason for this test is of secondary importance. This time the excuse is the opinion of the attorney general and the chairman of the Central Elections Committee, Justice Hanan Melcer. If a petition is submitted to the High Court of Justice against the proposed bill to allow cameras at polling stations, we can assume that Netanyahu and Likud will spark a new scandal. They will demand an immediate political decision contradicting the court’s ruling, in order to see if their deliberate violation of the rule of law will be approved in the interim Knesset, which is facing a renewed election test, and whether the public will continue to remain silent.

Not only Netanyahu and Likud are being tested — the ability of the attorney general to confront the premier’s brazenness and lawlessness is also being put to the test. Unfortunately, so far it looks as though Avichai Mendelblit is afraid of Netanyahu and is demonstrating mainly hesitation vis-à-vis his resolute and shameless boss.

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In spite of the three draft indictments, subject to a hearing, that the attorney general finally found the courage to file against the prime minister, his evasive behavior until now has prevented large sections of the public from having much confidence in him. But Mendelblit is what the rule of law has at the moment.

We have to hope that his basic integrity will help him to prevent a descent into general chaos before and after the election and to object to any attempt by Netanyahu to conduct the election and its outcome as he wishes. There will be an important start already now, in his defense of the High Court that will make a ruling about the placement of cameras.

The fact that Netanyahu and his followers are freaking out, and are no longer carefully choosing their words or their methods, is an indication of their fear and the genuine danger of defeat that they are anticipating. After all, losing the election would not only remove Netanyahu from power; it would also lead, almost by necessity, to his standing trial – after the precedent of another prime minister and other ministers who received prison sentences for their deeds.

And yet, we should not forget that even in his present difficult situation, despite everything Netanyahu has great power and the support of approximately half the nation, and he is likely to win the coming election once again. Many media people, incidentally, are convinced that this is exactly what will happen.

We must not incite, and Israelis have painful experience of incitement against a prime minister. And yet, we must warn of a disaster. The steps taken by Netanyahu in the past four years, including in recent days, clearly hint at what he will do if he wins. In such a case, the shredding of all the systems that he believes endanger him will be immediate and decisive, including the State Prosecutor’s Office, the courts and the media. What hasn’t taken place until now, or has taken place only to a limited extent, will almost certainly take place if he wins the election.

Netanyahu will not allow himself to again be on the brink of the terrible risk in which he has found himself at the moment. The naive voters, who assume that everything will be fine, will discover that being sober and realistic would have been preferable. The situation before us is very dangerous. We must prepare for it.