Defendant No. 1 Tweets Again

Haaretz Editorial
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Netanyahu putting on a face mask during a government meeting at the Foreign Ministry, Jerusalem, May 31, 2020
Netanyahu putting on a face mask during a government meeting at the Foreign Ministry, Jerusalem, May 31, 2020Credit: Emil Salman
Haaretz Editorial

Benjamin Netanyahu describes himself on his Twitter account as “Prime Minister of Israel and Likud chairman,” but his tweets indicate that the real manager of his account is “Defendant Netanyahu.” This week, for example, he tweeted, “[Attorney General Avichai] Mendeblit is enslaving the Israel Police for an obsessive and tendentious persecution of the Netanyahu family in an attempt to bring down the Israeli prime minister. The public has already shown that it doesn’t buy it.”

Don’t be mistaken: This isn’t criticism by the prime minister of the attorney general, and of course he doesn’t have an iota of proof to back the claim that the latter has conspired against him. It is a blatant effort by a criminal defendant to persuade the public that the legal proceedings against him are tainted and that his trial should be canceled.

It’s no coincidence that the address for these accusations is “the public” and not the authorities meant to investigate these kinds of allegations, because they are false. Even State Comptroller Matanyahu Englman, who was appointed to go easy on the incumbent and champions “constructive criticism,” refused a request from former Justice Minister Amir Ohana to launch an investigation into the conduct of Mendelblit and the prosecution.

Netanyahu is wearing two hats. Under one, he is meant to represent the interests of the State of Israel, and wearing the other, he is being prosecuted by it. He himself did a good job describing the inherent conflicts of interest posed by this situation: In 2008 he warned of the risk that the investigations against then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would lead him to make decisions “based on his personal interest in political survival, and not based on the national interest.”

Netanyahu knew well whereof he spoke. A heavy cloud of skepticism hovers over every move Netanyahu makes. The public doesn’t really know what is motivating him or Israeli policy. This is an unbearable situation, requiring careful scrutiny of every action he takes, to ensure that he is indeed serving the public interest and not just his own. The Supreme Court justices, who, when petitioned, hewed to the letter of the law – which does not prevent a prime minister from serving in office while on trial for felonies – have put Israelis in an impossible situation.

Mendelblit, the prosecution, the police and the judges involved must continue to do their work in a businesslike, unbiased fashion, without being alarmed or worried by the ongoing incitement against them. They must not allow the power and status that the defendant commands in his role as prime minister to disrupt their work; they must not let tweets, posts, or raucous speeches in the courthouse weaken them as they proceed to judge Netanyahu, or open new investigations against him or his associates, if necessary.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.