The election of Israel’s 22nd Knesset will take place Tuesday, five months after the last election, which was also held earlier than originally scheduled. The political dead end wasn’t over the drafting of yeshiva students into the army. The real reason the political system is faltering — why the Knesset was dissolved for an early election and quickly dissolved itself again and scheduled a second vote — is the legal situation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (For the latest election polls – click here)
For two years Israel has lived with the constant background noise of the corruption investigations into the prime minister, the noise of the draft indictments, the noise of the list of witnesses for the prosecution and their statements, and the noise of the malign attempts by Netanyahu and his partners to evade justice.
Netanyahu insisted on remaining in office for the duration of the investigations, even after Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit announced his intention to issue three indictments for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, pending a hearing. Not only did Netanyahu not step down, he launched an unbridled attack on the law enforcement agencies.
What didn’t he accuse them of? He accused them of conspiring against him, of hating him, of being leftists, of framing him, anything to delegitimize them in the eyes of the public. “Stop being frightened. It’s time for them to be frightened,” Netanyahu told confidants, referring to those who decided to indict him, as Haaretz’s Gidi Weitz reported Friday.
And without fear or shame, Netanyahu’s people did in fact try to pass laws for his personal benefit (such as the so-called French law, which prohibits the indictment of a sitting prime minister), and to link joining the government with giving him immunity. According to Weitz’s article, Netanyahu outlined to his inner circle a plan to evade prosecution by obtaining immunity from the Knesset and passing the so-called override clause that would prevent the High Court of Justice from lifting the protection awarded him by his governing coalition.
The destructive effect of Netanyahu’s criminal cases on his conduct as prime minister; the corrupting effect of his legal struggle on his colleagues in Likud and the entire right-wing bloc; the cumulative damage to the state and to the public’s trust in the systems of the state, to the principles of fundamental honesty and decency; and the fact that the country has been dragged into a general election twice the same year, at the public’s expense — all this shows that management of the country has been subordinated to Netanyahu’s legal battle.
Netanyahu is misappropriating his job as prime minister. Another term would probably leave Israel’s democratic institutions, built through great work and years of care, in ruins. The damage Netanyahu will leave behind will be difficult to repair. On Tuesday, at the voting booths, the people must end his reign.
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The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.