Editorial |

Attorney General's Conflict of Interests Agreement With Netanyahu Legitimizes Corruption

Benjamin Netanyahu during the opening of his trial at the Jerusalem District Court, May 24, 2020.
Benjamin Netanyahu during the opening of his trial at the Jerusalem District Court, May 24, 2020.Credit: Amit Shabi/Pool

It’s hard not to laugh at Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit’s pretense of preventing the prime minister’s conflict of interests by making him sign a legal document. By this time, one would have expected Mendelblit to finally understand who he’s dealing with and what Benjamin Netanyahu’s word is worth.

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The bottom line is that no agreement in the world is capable of preventing the conflict of interests that Netanyahu has as someone accused of serious crimes. His interests as a criminal defendant are at odds with his obligations as prime minister and have a real influence on his decisions. But even if it were theoretically possible to tie the prime minister’s hands and legally prevent him from working to promote the defendant’s interests, the conflict of interests agreement drafted by Mendelblit would be far from doing the job. Netanyahu may be barred from involvement in appointments and promotions of senior officials in law enforcement agencies and the courts, and he’s also barred from interfering in the work of the Judicial Appointments Committee. But the agreement doesn’t prevent his obedient servants from doing the same in his stead, and they are actively involved in both the law enforcement system and judicial appointments.

These servants have already proven their master’s interests take precedence over those of the country. With Amir Ohana as public security minister, Miri Regev as the cabinet’s representative on the Judicial Appointments Committee and MK Osnat Mark (Likud) as one of the Knesset’s representatives on that panel, the defendant has plenty of people representing his interests. His agents, subordinates and allies know exactly what is expected of them. Wouldn’t it be proper to say that they, too, have a conflict of interests?

Mendelblit’s opinion says that Netanyahu must “refrain from involvement in any matter with a substantive connection to his trial or anything that will be discussed there.” It’s hard to decide whether to laugh or to cry over this naivete. As long as Mendelblit doesn’t expand the conflict of interests agreement to apply it to the ministers Netanyahu appointed, it should be seen as an agreement that does more to legitimize corruption than prevent it.

This fear is what stood and still stands at the root of the objections to a criminal defendant serving as prime minister. Because there really isn’t any way to prevent Netanyahu from making decisions on the basis of his interests as a defendant rather than the country’s interests at a time when he is “in this unique distress, which runs so deep” (to quote his own words) – a distress characteristic of all defendants. There’s no reason to pin any hopes on Mendelblit’s conflict of interests agreement. It’s truly not worth the paper it’s printed on.

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

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