In Netanyahu's Corruption Cases, It's the ‘State’ vs. the State

Netanyahu and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit in Jerusalem, November 1, 2015
Dan Balilty / AP

Benjamin Netanyahu is (for now?) the last link in a chain of Israeli-born leaders who’ve sinned. We recall the lecture fees (“Leah Rabin’s dollar account”) that Yitzhak Rabin pocketed when he was ambassador to the United States. While he was president, Ezer Weizman took large sums from billionaire Edward Sarusi. Ehud Barak was involved up to his neck in the nonprofit associations case. Then there were the Greek Island and Cyril Kern cases involving Ariel Sharon, and Ehud Olmert’s cash envelopes and the Holyland scandal. Compare the norms of these righteous men to those of their predecessors – David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Sharett, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, Zalman Shazar, Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir – all of them born abroad.

In terms of his lust for the wealth and gifts of others, Netanyahu is no different from the prime ministers who preceded him. There is, however, an aggravating difference between the way the justice system is dealing with him and how they dealt with the others. His predecessors, who pursued the “correct” political agenda, like the Oslo process, the disengagement from Gaza, or “convergence” (Olmert’s plan to withdraw from 90 percent of the West Bank) were granted a complete erasure of their sins, or, in Olmert’s case, rather forgiving charges (and verdicts). Netanyahu, who dared to challenge the way governmental powers are being usurped by promoters of the “rule of law,” is being scraped with iron combs.

Even worse, during the last election campaign, law enforcement and judicial officials almost openly took the side of his opponents and conducted, via a flood of leaks, a campaign of targeted political propaganda that was far more effective than that of Kahol Lavan. Netanyahu’s removal is vital to the people of “the state.” That’s how they’ll be able to foil legislative initiatives like the override clause, which would allow the Knesset to relegislate laws struck down by the Supreme Court. Through these initiatives Netanyahu seeks to restore to the actual state – the one that he and his colleagues were elected to lead – those governmental powers that the judicial “state” commandeered from them.

To sum it up: Netanyahu is being prosecuted not just because of his nominal violations, but because – some would say primarily because – of his effort to restore to the government those governmental powers that judges and prosecutors have taken upon themselves. The proof, as noted, was the campaign of leaks conducted against him. This indeed harmed him, but it also caused irreparable harm to the separation of powers and to the agencies that were party to this campaign – the police, the prosecution and the attorney general’s office.

Likud voters – and not only they – are now convinced that Netanyahu’s claims that these agencies are persecuting him for political reasons and hooked up with the left to remove him (and the right) from power, are correct. Netanyahu’s opponents in these intertwined systems – the political system and law enforcement – have created such high expectations that he will be convicted that no human court could help but be influenced. This is a trap that won’t be easy to escape. If Netanyahu is acquitted, there will be a public and media assault on those judges the likes of which we’ve never seen here.

The judiciary here in general sees itself as representing the “enlightened public.” They see their role as “saving the state” from the ignorant public, which includes Likud voters, the ultra-Orthodox and the settlers. After all, these groups support the Nation-State Law, the override clause, and worst of all, they, like Netanyahu, seek to limit the governing powers of appointed officials and restore them to the elected ones. And with the revolving sword of the media and those influenced by dangling above, the chance of the prime minister getting an unbiased legal process is almost nil.