Netanyahu the Defendant Is Calling the Shots

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during his visit to Beit Shemesh, near Jerusalem on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020.

The response of Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn to the reports concerning former State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan and former Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich should be repeated every day like a mantra. “Every week we have a ‘new,’ in quotation marks, exposé whose entire purpose is to upend reality: To take the investigators and turn them into suspects, to take the judges and turn them into the ones under attack.”

Indeed everything Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does is aimed at this goal: To bring about the opening of an investigation against Alsheich, Nitzan and/or Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit – and then to use the existence of such an investigation to claim injustice in his case and to have the charges against him dropped.

If, in the past, Netanyahu’s statements and actions required analysis in order to ascertain his exact intentions or goals, today that is no longer necessary. Last week, he posted on his official Instagram account a clear call, black on red, “to investigate the investigators!”

If the things he said in the past might have been construed as metaphoric, and it was possible to have the impression that his accusations that his opponents were conspiring against him and framing him — all this was just a figure of speech, today this gap of uncertainty has been closed. As far as he is concerned, he now has “evidence,” provided by a TV report, and is demanding an investigation. Indeed, in the first response to his post he added: “This evening it has been proven to everyone that all the cases against Prime Minister Netanyahu are a frame-up.”

This is not just talk, this line was crossed last week. On Wednesday Netanyahu demanded an investigation. “This behavior must be investigated,” he said decisively. “But who will investigate?” he asked innocently, as if he had not been investigated and indicted by these same people he wants to investigate now: “the police commissioner who is protecting the investigator? The prosecutor who is protecting the police commissioner? Maybe the attorney general?” To sum it up, he stated “there is no avoiding an independent and objective investigation.” Since then, the demand for an investigation has spread like a wildfire through pages of messages.

The only reason that Netanyahu apologized last week for things that have been known for three years is that the person who is dictating the actions of the prime minister is the defendant Netanyahu. When he was faced with the prime minister’s needs – as warped as they may be – Netanyahu preferred “not to know” that an innocent person was shot to death by police officers and then depicted as a terrorist. Now, faced with the needs of the defendant – as justified as they may be – Netanyahu prefers to “discover” the truth and apologize.

This is a clear example of conflict of interest, in other words, the clashing of the interests of the defendant Netanyahu with those of the prime minister. As fate would have it, and in a sort of morbid irony, the family of Yakub Abu al-Kiyan, the Bedouin teacher shot to death and falsely accused of terrorism, benefitted from this. The interests of the defendant Netanyahu worked in their favor. Because of this conflict of interest, it has been argued that a criminal defendant cannot serve as prime minister – because it is unimaginable that a criminal defendant would directly, or indirectly, determine the identity of the police commissioner, state prosecutor, attorney general or his judges.

Now it turns out that this conflict of interest dictates not only Israel’s domestic (and foreign) policy, but also issues of law enforcement: Netanyahu refuses to sign an agreement barring him from handling matters related to the law enforcement system (as required by the High Court of Justice), claiming that Mendelblit has no authority to demand this since he is the one who filed the indictment against him. This is exactly the “upending of reality” that Nissenkorn spoke about: It is not Netanyahu who has a conflict of interest, it is Mendelblit. If it is not too late already, Mendelblit must internalize that the government is being run by a man with only one identity: a defendant charged with corruption. If Mendelblit does not stop him, Netanyahu will arrest Mendelblit.

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