Benjamin Netanyahu had to push the situation nearly to the limit to cause Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to determine that the cabinet “knowingly and deliberately acted in an illegal manner.” No Israeli attorney general has ever made such a statement.
Tuesday’s scandalous maneuver by the Netanyahu camp in the transitional government, in which Ofir Akunis was ostensibly approved as justice minister, has brought Israel to the brink of a constitutional crisis. The cabinet convened at the instruction of the High Court of Justice to appoint a justice minister. The prime minister, whose government is in any event treading the limits of legitimacy, opposed the appointment of Benny Gantz and proposed Netanyahu crony Ofir Akunis instead.
Likud cabinet members, orchestrated by Netanyahu, chose to ignore Mendelblit’s determination that the vote, which Gantz opposed, was illegal, and that given the equal number of votes by the other camp, the result was a tie in any case, meaning that Akunis’s appointment was not approved. These cabinet ministers began to celebrate the appointment that was not, thereby forcing the attorney general to inform the High Court that, despite the Likud celebrations, no justice minister had been appointed.
All that was missing was for Akunis, repeatedly revealed as someone devoid of any spine, to arrive at the ministry on Salah al-Din Street in East Jerusalem and try to push his way in by force. The legal saga is not over yet and will continue Wednesday, at another session of the High Court which will deal with various petitions, after freezing the appointment Tuesday night.
If these are Netanyahu’s last days as prime minister, it appears that he’s decided to destroy what’s left of the rule of law and of any statesmanlike conduct that still remain in this country’s government institutions. His conduct seems to be calculated, intended to escalate his conflict with the entire legal system – the High Court of Justice, the attorney general and all jurists wherever they may be.
Netanyahu’s actions should have long since brought Mendelblit to declare him unfit to serve in his current position. His latest moves should convince even the most hesitant and skeptical attorney general that Netanyahu is incompetent to serve as prime minister for even one more day. He must step up boldly and declare to the High Court and the public that he erred in the position he adopted last week, and that the recent moves by the criminal defendant from Balfour Street have pushed him over a threshold which now necessitates his incapacitation.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.