Opinion

The Public's Silence Helped Netanyahu’s Abuse of Israelis

Supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chant slogans and hold up signs in support of him during a rally held under the banner in Tel Aviv, November 26, 2019.
AFP

The feeling of catharsis that arose after the attorney general’s decision to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for some reason had to be buried deep in the ground, hidden from view. “A sad day,” pundits and politicians wailed. “A difficult day for Israeli democracy.”

But at least they didn’t ask to mark the occasion with a national day of mourning or commemorate it with songs like “By the Rivers of Babylon.”

Then they tut-tutted about that Netanyahu heaping slime and filth on the system of law enforcement, as if the angel Gabriel himself had started cursing, rather than a serial slime-slinger who under different circumstances would have been placed under arrest until the end of judicial proceedings against him due to fear that he would influence witnesses and continue to incite against the state’s institutions.

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The law, which Netanyahu knew how to twist and distort, and the justice system, which he sees as an enemy, are now the horns of his altar. All of a sudden he says that he’ll do everything by the book and that “the whole process will ultimately be decided in court and we will accept its decision.”

The law, the suspect explained to us, has determined that an elected prime minister can remain in office after being indicted. He can abuse the state until he receives a final verdict and can then ask for immunity.

We’ll wait patiently, says the polite public. Just a little longer, just a few more years. First the district court will rule, and then the Supreme Court, and finally, you’ll see, it will turn out fine. We’ve already accepted our premise. He is a suspect who holds fast to the presumption of innocence. The bluff is that the legal process, including Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit’s decision, has coated us with perfume against the stink, a fragrance of lavender and lemons, to the point where we’re sure that we have succeeded in shaking off the cloud of shame and remaining pure.

But the stink permeates every corner – clothing, hair, mind and heart. We’ve quickly gotten used to the fact that if the attorney general closes a case, that means there’s no culpability. We adopted the idea that if the chance of a conviction isn’t 100 percent, then the suspect is as pure as the driven snow.

There is no middle ground. The attorney general might be teaching us about the rules of evidence, but he can’t mark the bounds of morality. And we, ordinary and blameless citizens, have adopted the attorney general’s definitions.

We have raised the bar of guilt to the very highest limit. We have distorted our public criteria regarding the definition of bribery and fraud, theft and lies to suit them to the interpretation of the law.

Morality, fairness, truth, honesty – concepts that form the relationship between the people and a country’s leader – we wrinkled and crushed them when we gave up the only power that the public has against corrupt leadership, the power to say: “Enough already,” without waiting for another and then yet another election.

We have allowed the suspect to insult and abuse the same legal and judicial systems that we are all respectfully subject to. We have treated Netanyahu as if he were the village idiot who can do anything he wants.

The public has been so corrupted under the cloak of legality that it has forgotten who the sovereign is. The public is corrupt as long as it cooperates with a person suspected of violence toward the state and is even willing to let him continue to lead, as long as he does so according to the law. There can be no other description for citizens who continue to shake their heads and cluck their tongues but don’t take to the streets.

When we accept Netanyahu’s “legal truth,” we continue to spray ourselves with lavender to purify the overflowing sewage. Netanyahu can’t be permitted to lead the country for even one more day, even if the law allows it.

Mendelblit’s decision is also a harsh and reasoned indictment against the public, who with their patience and silent compliance has contributed to Netanyahu’s abuse of the citizens of Israel.