Opinion |

If Need Be, He’ll Replace the State

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacts at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office May 12, 2019.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacts at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office May 12, 2019. Credit: \ POOL/ REUTERS
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

Israel presumably hasn’t looked in the mirror lately. If it had, it would be aghast at the sight of the egg on its face. Never before has an entire nation, not just a few lawbreakers, been tarred and feathered while its citizens are sure it’s merely the latest style.

A prime minister who was elected by just one-third of the eligible voters sits there, drafting a law for himself, crumpling the justice system, spitting on basic ethics, convinced that he is the victim of the system he himself created, and the public goes on believing that it’s all just a circus act. This method allowed the prime minister to trigger an election and now to build himself a barricade of power-crazed cabinet members who demand bags of bribes in exchange for signing a writ of surrender to the supreme leader. It won’t be a court that will determine Benjamin Netanyahu’s innocence, but rather his fellow gang members, who are already counting their protection money.

Of course the money for the prime minister’s protectors will come not from his own pocket — after all, he’s a pauper who can’t even afford to pay his defense attorneys — but rather from the taxpayers. The ultra-Orthodox,the racists and the ultranationalists don’t work for free. They won’t be like Netanyahu’s lawyers who stand there with their hands out, threatening to resign. They are bodyguards who will link their muscular arms together to protect the defendant’s immunity. Each of them has mouths to feed. If Bibi wants to save on legal fees, he can go right ahead: He’s got a more effective option, even if it costs a lot more, and at our expense, because the mafia doesn’t forgive debts.

Netflix could find plenty of good material in the reality show Netanyahu has foisted upon the country. Granted, political dramas in which a corrupt leader and criminal suspect manages his affairs with the aid of organized crime aren’t new. Fans of Latin American shows in this genre like “Narcos” and “The Mechanism” know the script. Shows like this usually come with a warning that they “are based on real events, but some changes have been made for dramatic purposes.” In Israel, there’s no need to change a thing. All the events are real and the drama requires no enhancements.

But Latin America can also teach us an important lesson about a public that becomes fed up with its corrupt leaders. In Israel, where the government is stealing the justice system from the citizens right before the eyes of the attorney general, and where the High Court of Justice is about to be buried by a military bulldozer heaped with garbage, the public remains in a deep trance that enables the corruption and plundering of the public coffers of which the prime minister is accused (pending a preposterous hearing) to persist while he enjoys the presumption of innocence. The presumption of innocence is an important principle of democracy, but it is not meant to be eternal. It is a temporary status that requires the defendant to enter the courtroom, where his guilt or innocence will be decided.

Netanyahu would be well-entitled to cling to this principle if he respected the legal process, the law and the people of this country, but in his zeal to neutralize the threat hovering over he not only intends to piece together a new law made of numerous faulty replacement parts and a justice system made of cardboard, he is also engendering an Israeli culture in which the law is a kaleidoscope of shifting shapes and colors, constantly morphing into whatever best suits the ruler, his family and his close associates. This will be eternal legislation that no leader who follows will ever want to change. Netanyahu is thus realizing the old Israeli dream — “No Bagatz (High Court) and no B’Tselem” — whose original intent was to reinforce the oppressive rule in the territories, but is now being directed against Israeli citizens. There can be no presumption of innocence here. The crime was committed in broad daylight, and the criminal openly admits that he committed it and even promises that he won’t rest until his work is done. And the citizens? They just look on, bored.

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