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If Indicted Netanyahu Can Serve as PM, Why Can't Criminal Suspects Be Ministers?

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Cartoon of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and newly-appointed Agriculture Minister David Bitan.
Cartoon of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and newly-appointed Agriculture Minister David Bitan. Credit: Eran Wolksowski

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has appointed David Bitan as agriculture minister, even though police in March recommended that he be prosecuted for taking bribes in 12 different instances, in which he allegedly got hundreds of thousands of shekels in cash from building contractors and businessmen.

In April, two weeks after last year’s first election, Bitan demanded to be named a minister and contemptuously dismissed the argument that being a bribery suspect disqualified him. Bitan claimed a double standard was being applied, asking – justifiably from his perspective – why Arye Dery, whom police the preceding November had recommended prosecuting for fraud, breach of trust, tax evasion and money laundering, could be a minister while he couldn’t. In an interview at the time, Bitan said, “I’m seeking to be a minister because I see they aren’t keeping Dery from being one.”

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After Netanyahu last week appointed Deputy Minister Yaakov Litzman to be health minister even though five months ago police recommended he be prosecuted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, and given the fact that the prime minister himself is accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, one is forced to admit that Bitan’s logic is even more valid now. If Netanyahu, Dery and Litzman can, why can’t Bitan? That’s how it is when corruption becomes the prevailing government norm.

What’s even more amazing is the fact that this round of appointments, in which criminal suspects got ministerial posts, was forced on Netanyahu because he himself had held these portfolios but was compelled to give them up because of the indictments filed against him, as required by the High Court ruling in the Dery-Pinhasi cases of 2003. So here is the ultimate absurdity: Netanyahu isn’t legally qualified to head a ministry, but is qualified to head the entire government.

A sick logic rules in Netanyahu’s Israel. Not only did Netanyahu not resign when his indictments were announced, as common sense would dictate, since if a minister accused of a crime must resign it follows that a prime minister accused of one must do the same, but now the public must deal with the legal distinctions between suspects who have been formally accused, and suspects whose allegations are still awaiting the attorney general’s decision.

The large number of these twisting legal complexities is no coincidence. It is evidence that Israel is sinking in a swamp of government corruption. At the rate this is spreading under the Netanyahu regime, instead of a matriculation exam in civics, the Education Ministry will soon have to make every pupil take an exam in criminal law.

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

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