Despite It All, Netanyahu's Still a Defendant

Haaretz Editorial
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the beginning of his trial in the Jerusalem District Court, last year.
Haaretz Editorial

Despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s indefatigable, no-holds-barred attempts to abuse his power to evade justice, on Monday the Jerusalem District Court will start hearing the evidence against him.

This isn’t a trivial issue. Netanyahu hasn’t hesitated to use any means to try to stop the proceedings against him, including dragging the entire country into four elections over the course of two years in the hopes of achieving a Knesset majority that would agree to legislate an escape route for him, and holding the state budget hostage for political ransom. Nevertheless, his efforts have been in vain. There’s no government and no budget, but the trial is proceeding.

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Astoundingly, his presence in the courtroom on Monday isn’t a matter of course for either Netanyahu or his attorneys. His lawyers have been working tirelessly to postpone the hearings and arrange VIP conditions for him. They even tried to exempt him from being present on Monday. Granted, they didn’t manage to do that, but unfortunately, they did manage to convince the judges to exempt him from being present during the testimony of a key witness, Ilan Yeshua.

Netanyahu’s presence in the courtroom also isn’t a matter of course to many of his supporters, who believe the slander that the prime minister, his ministers and his media mouthpieces have repeatedly disseminated about him being the victim of a governmental coup perpetrated through legal means. They would rather believe that the attorney general, the media, the opposition, the president, the police, the prosecution and the High Court of Justice conspired, fabricated cases, lied, deceived and swindled the public than doubt Netanyahu’s innocence.

His ministers, political partners and many supporters are also willing to ignore a series of steps he took and is still taking to evade justice, and which themselves are crimes against the public and the state. Just in the past few days, for instance, he prevented Benny Gantz’s appointment as permanent justice minister.

He thereby left a country whose prime minister is charged with crimes – and who refuses to sign a conflict of interests agreement that the High Court ordered him to sign as a condition of serving as premier while under indictment – without any minister in charge of the system that is putting him on trial. The same goes for the failure to appoint a new state prosecutor. And the saga of ousting the attorney general will presumably begin soon.

Netanyahu’s presence in the courtroom on Monday is important to prove that the state, its institutions and its law enforcement system haven’t yet collapsed despite his assaults on them. His lies and manipulations won’t help him, and regardless of the election results or all the political tricks that the “magician” Netanyahu might yet play, none of this will change reality: Netanyahu isn’t a victim; quite the contrary. He’s a criminal defendant who has abused his position to try to evade justice, failed in this attempt and will be sitting in the dock on Monday.

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

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