A Self-evident Law

Haaretz Editorial
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Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at the Knesset
Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at the KnessetCredit: Emil Salman
Haaretz Editorial

Nothing is more self-evident than a law that bars someone who has been indicted for criminal offenses from being able to form a government or serve as its head. In a properly run country, the memorandum of the proposed legislation issued by Justice Minister Gideon Saar would have been welcomed across the board. That should be the case especially in Israel, which is still in the midst of a shaky recovery from its years under the rule of criminal defendant Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

If there is something disturbing in this legislation, it’s the question of what and who those who oppose it are protecting. They argue that the law is retroactive, despite the fact that, if the legislation passes, it will only go into force with the next Knesset. In other words, the law isn’t retroactive.

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In addition, Netanyahu supporters resent the bill because they regard it as “personal.” As they see it, it’s the offenses that Netanyahu has been indicted for that will disqualify him from forming a government; even worse, it will also prevent a criminal defendant like him from circumventing the ban by forming a parity government where power is divided equally between two parties.

But the issue of personality is exactly what Netanyahu is all about – a man who has been indicted for a crime of moral turpitude and has changed the structure of government in order to remain in power. Woe to the man for whom such a self-evident law has been enacted.

It’s not for nothing that Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit supports the legislation. Anyone like him, who fell victim to the behavior of a prime minister accused of crimes and witnessed the danger he posed to the government’s stability (even to “the end of Israeli democracy,” as Mendelblit put it), knows how badly needed the law is.

Every Israeli knows exactly what Mendelblit was talking about. Just a few small reminders will suffice: Netanyahu’s refusal to sign a conflict-of-interest declaration; his involvement, first as the subject of an investigation and then as a defendant, in appointing the ministers responsible for the police and justice system; the despicable sight of his ministers standing by him outside the courtroom the day his trial opened as he attacked the institutions of the state, as he has done throughout the legal proceedings against him; and his refusal to submit a state budget in order to prevent a transfer of power under the rotation agreement and continue his campaign to have the indictment withdrawn.

As expected, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked opposes the law as part of the double life she leads both as a member of the coalition and a friend of the opposition. But you don’t need Shaked to do what’s needed. Ayman Odeh, the head of the opposition Joint List, has promised his party will support the bill. “Shaked has one vote, we have six. Gideon Sa’ar can get the law passed next week.” The prime minister and the other Knesset lawmakers must remember the fragility of a democracy when it is led by a criminal defendant and do the minimum required to prevent us from falling into that abyss, by supporting the law.

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