Editorial

Netanyahu's Campaign for Immunity

Netanyahu at the Likud Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony, Tel Aviv, December 29, 2019.
Tomer Appelbaum

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has added a new definition to the language he’s invented, which he is using to distort reality. On Saturday night he said that his appeal to the Knesset to grant him immunity “would not be avoiding standing trial.” As is his wont, Netanyahu is trying to confuse the public and plant doubts regarding what is self-evident, whether this applies to norms of governance, social norms or dictionary definitions. All of this is meant to garner public support for his reckless conduct and his flight from the arm of the law.

Since the investigations commenced, Netanyahu has been repeating the mantra that “there will be nothing since there was nothing.” But for over two years it has turned out that at every decisive nexus, there was something. The police transferred the file with the allegations to state prosecutors, recommending that Netanyahu be indicted; Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit published a detailed list of charges, deciding to prosecute Netanyahu subject to a hearing; and even during the hearing Netanyahu’s attorneys could not prove that there was nothing to the charges. Indeed, following the hearing, Mendelblit decided to file the indictment.

One should tell Netanyahu that a quest for immunity is tantamount to an admission of guilt. His attempt to portray this as something temporary, as if this were only a postponement and not an evasion, reaches new levels of cynicism, constituting a blatant attempt to avoid a trial.

A trial is essential, especially given the pointed defense made by Netanyahu, which included unbridled assaults on law enforcement agencies, claims of rigged charges and selective law enforcement, political persecution and even claims of a putsch. Someone who accuses the police, the justice system, the media and the opposition of conspiring against him while inciting the public against all these elements has the onus of proving their guilt.

But instead of exposing the truth, Netanyahu is exploiting his position in an attempt to evade justice. He has dragged Israel into three election rounds only because he’s refused to take the right step, the one he demanded then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert take when the he himself was the head of the opposition: namely to step down. Such a demand is much more apt after an indictment has been filed and with the country in a political deadlock, without a government, a Knesset, a permanent police commissioner or state prosecutor – and soon, without a budget.

Requesting immunity is a cowardly act by someone who has something to hide. Parties colluding with such a request demonstrate their disdain toward the value of equality before the law and the rule of law. That is why the coming election will revolve around this issue: will Israel return to the path of normalcy, or will it give refuge to a prime minister trying to evade justice by using his immunity?

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