Opinion |

Let Netanyahu’s Trial Run Its Course

Zehava Galon
Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset
Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the KnessetCredit: Maya Alleruzzo /AP
Zehava Galon

The deranged idea of a plea bargain with Benjamin Netanyahu needs to be rejected outright, for several reasons. The most trivial of which is that there is no reason to assume that Netanyahu will respect the terms of the plea bargain. A few months after a deal is reached he will no doubt claim that it proves what he said all along, that there was a conspiracy against him. And, since he represents the will of the people, he is not bound by the terms of the plea bargain and plans to run for the coming elections. What will the state do then?

This is no mere speculation. Netanyahu is a recidivist. That is exactly what he did after the Bar-On-Hebron affair: When the merciful Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein decided not to put him on trial, Netanyahu declared that everything was above board – no one remembers Rubinstein’s winding discourse on criminal doubt. Netanyahu repeated this pattern following the Avner Amedi affair: He wasn’t prosecuted, so from his perspective, everything was above board. If Avichai Mandelblit follows in Elyakim Rubinstein’s path, Netanyahu will do the same again.

But as we said, this issue is a minor one compared with the far graver issue of the State Prosecutor’s Office actually formulating a plea bargain with Netanyahu. By doing so it will have publicly admitted that justice is on his side. The State Prosecutor’s Office filed an indictment against a sitting prime minister even though it wasn’t certain of its evidence. It filed an indictment against the head of the executive branch during an election campaign – leave aside for the moment the fact that this was the third election campaign that Netanyahu initiated in order to avoid indictment. Nobody will remember that – even though there was room for doubt. Now, the state prosecution is willing to backtrack from its position and agree to reduced charges. State prosecutors, did you not know this back then, before you filed the indictment?

It should be mentioned that this is how the State Prosecutor’s Office works. In Israel, 91 percent of trials end in plea bargains. That is their modus operandi. You file a loaded indictment that makes the accused seem like a hybrid between a serial killer and a war criminal, and then you offer him a deal – we are talking about blackmail.

You can spend years of your life and all your money (if you are just a regular citizen and not a multimillionaire like Netanyahu) and take the risk of being handed a tough sentence, or you can admit your guilt, and we will reduce the charges against you. Don’t think for a moment, your attorney will tell you, that your innocence will be of any assistance to you. Being found not guilty in criminal trials is very rare. The house always wins. The judge is a former prosecutor. Take the agreement and run.

But the accused Netanyahu is no regular defendant, he was the prime minister. If the prosecution indeed adopts its regular modus operandi in dealing with him, our entire justice system will collapse. No one will believe in the sincerity of the prosecution. The justice system has nothing to rely on but public faith. If all that remains is the power of enforcement, without public trust, then confidence in the regime will quickly be destroyed, and with its very own hands, the justice system will have crowned Netanyahu as dictator. After all, he was right. There was a witch hunt against him.

Therefore, the trial should run its course to the end. The court should decide on the merit of the evidence. All that is left for us is to pray that despite Mendelblit’s spinelessness, the investigators and the jurists have indeed gathered sufficient evidence for conviction. Mendelblit himself, in his final days in office, must not be allowed to touch this case. He has caused enough damage already. The case should be left to his successor.

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