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Netanyahu Is Above the Law

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press conference about the coronavirus at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, March 17, 2020.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press conference about the coronavirus at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, March 17, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

As part of the privileges reserved for a criminal defendant who serves as prime minister at the same time, Benjamin Netanyahu took advantage of the coronavirus press conference he held on Monday to send a threat to the High Court of Justice over the coalition agreement between Likud and Kahol Lavan.

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“The agreement between us and Kahol Lavan was built carefully, with very great caution, with very great responsibility and undermining it could increase the chances that we will be dragged into a fourth election. I hope the High Court of Justice does not do that,” he said.

This is how, without batting an eyelash, he made the justices of the Supreme Court aware of the real limits of their authority.

Every day that passes provides more proof of the twisted state of Israeli democracy, in which a defendant under criminal indictment leads the government and is a candidate to form the next one. The recent briefing at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem was the first time that journalists were allowed to ask questions on the coronavirus crisis after the statements were concluded. It is not a coincidence that Netanyahu found it appropriate to suddenly demonstrate “generosity” toward the media and answer questions, as is required from a prime minister during times of crisis.

Netanyahu invited the questions in order to exploit the opportunity and send the message to the expanded panel of 11 Supreme Court justices, who are of the opinion – mistakenly, thinks Netanyahu – that they have the freedom to conduct their work and carry out justice.

“In a democracy, the people decide who will lead the people,” he preached to the High Court about democracy, and emphasized that “there is a huge majority in the Knesset that wants it, and that’s the way it should be. It would be inappropriate for anybody, not bureaucrats and not the court, to intervene in this basic thing.”

Netanyahu continues to attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the judicial branch to try him, as if he is above it all. Once again, this is cheap and dangerous demagogy that ignores the elephant in the room: The sole reason that the court convened in the first place to discuss this matter, and that interfering with “this basic thing” is being considered, is that he is charged with crimes – the serious crimes of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Before he preaches to the justices of the High Court about democracy, it would be best if he would respect the law himself.

In spite of the threats, on Tuesday Likud and Kahol Lavan informed the High court that they had amended the sections of the coalition agreement that the justices had reservations about: The length of the freeze on senior civil service appointments will be shortened to 100 days instead of six months, and legislation on matters unrelated to the coronavirus would not be prohibited.

The ruling on the petitions is expected to be handed down on Thursday at noon. One can hope that the poison Netanyahu is spreading will not prevent the justices from judging according to the law, and solely according to their judgment.

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

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