Editorial

A Referendum on Whether or Not Netanyahu Is Above the Law

Netanyahu and Bennett at the Knesset, Jerusalem, October 15, 2018.
David Bachar

It’s now official. The Yamina party is in Benjamin Netanyahu’s pocket. “You’d need something really extreme to make me oppose giving him immunity,” said Naftali Bennett, one of Yamina’s leaders, in a TV interview on Saturday night. In doing so, Bennett abandoned the policy of vagueness he and his partner, former justice minister Ayelet Shaked, had pursued with regard to the prime minister’s criminal cases. (For the latest election polls – click here)

At a conference of industrialists on Sunday, Shaked clarified that Yamina would not try to change the immunity law, but would consider supporting the granting of immunity to Netanyahu according to the existing law. Bennett and Shaked’s statements clearly indicate that Yamina is joining the list of Netanyahu’s “natural partners” who are ready to do anything it takes to let him escape facing justice.

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Bennett’s statement was an important reminder of the steps Netanyahu intends to take in the event that President Reuven Rivlin tasks him with forming a government. Before the last election, when asked by TV journalist Keren Marciano if he would take measures that would prevent his standing trial, Netanyahu replied: “What? No way! The answer is no.” He stressed that he hadn’t dealt with the issue nor was he intending to do so. Despite those words, the public learned that when Rivlin assigned Netanyahu the task of forming a government, the subject of immunity was discussed in coalition negotiations with right-wing parties.

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Netanyahu lied regarding his future intentions as he did when stating that he hadn’t dealt with immunity in the past. It’s well-known that before Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit published his recommendations to indict Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust (subject to a hearing), the latter’s associates tried to promote the so-called “French law,” which prohibits the indictment of a sitting president.

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After Mendelblit published his decision, Likud tried to change the immunity law so Netanyahu would have automatic immunity. His associates also constantly worked on a law that would overrule court decisions, which would allow the legislature to pass laws at will, with no checks and balances exerted by the judicial branch of government.

As justice minister, Shaked maintained a consistent policy of weakening the judiciary and enfeebling the gatekeeper agencies. There never were nor can there be any expectation that she and Bennett will be the ones to save the rule of law from Netanyahu’s machinations. Previously, due to the political balance of forces, the two maintained a vague stance regarding immunity. Now, with the lame excuse of “stability,” they’re putting their tails between their legs and fawning over Netanyahu.

After last April’s election, there is no longer any doubt that voting for a right-wing party is tantamount to granting immunity to Netanyahu. The choice facing the Israeli public is between maintaining the rule of law or the rule of Netanyahu, which amounts to savaging the law.

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