The presumption of innocence is a basic right of every citizen, including the prime minister. But it’s a shame that the Netanyahu today — hounded, unrestrained and aggressive — does not take the advice of the Netanyahu of a decade ago, who as head of the opposition was very clear in his stance about “a prime minister sunk up to his neck in investigations.” According to Netanyahu then, such a prime minister “has no moral or public mandate to make fateful decisions for Israel.”
Even though he was referring to Ehud Olmert, who held talks with Syria while he was under police investigations, his words should be echoing in his ears and in the ears of his coalition partners today. At the time, Netanyahu cited “a genuine and not unfounded concern that he will decide on the basis of his personal and political survival and not the national interest. The right thing to do is for this government to go home, to return the mandate to the voters.”
Netanyahu even posited the doubts that could arise about his own motives between now and the attorney general’s decision on an indictment: “With the prime minister in such extreme distress, measures are being taken here to distract attention. Clearly the publication, the timing of the publication, the acceleration of the negotiations, are tied to the development of the investigation.”
There is no avoiding a review of these remarks in the current context. On Saturday, an Iranian drone that entered Israel from Syria was shot down. Its interception was absolutely necessary. But was the strike on Iranian targets in Syria, in the course of which an Israeli F-16 was brought down, also absolutely necessary? From now on, questions of this sort, in regard to just about everything — from the handling of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza to the various annexation proposals and even relations with U.S. President Donald Trump — will dog Netanyahu constantly.
Netanyahu has already proved that when in trouble he does not shrink from disrupting the institutions of law enforcement and weakening Israeli democracy. Just last week he began a campaign to oust Israel Police chief Roni Alsheich and other top agency officials; he long ago made the position of attorney general a bonus for cronies; even the state comptroller was forced to prove his loyalty.
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If Netanyahu genuinely cared about the country, rather than himself, he would resign immediately. Since he has no intention of doing so, and since his coalition partners are going along with this anomaly in order to save their seats, we can only hope that Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit comes to a decision soon. That might at least reduce the potential for Netanyahu to cause harm.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.