Netanyahu, Show Up in Court

Haaretz Editorial
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A woman walks at the start of a protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, April 19, 2020.
A woman walks at the start of a protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, April 19, 2020. Credit: Oded Balilty,AP
Haaretz Editorial

Nothing could have been more predictable than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request not to go to court for the first day of his trial on Sunday. From the moment suspicions were raised against him, all along the road to court, he has never missed an opportunity to demand special treatment from the law, as befitting someone who is outstandingly unique in his own eyes.

The arguments Netanyahu raises are a mockery and an insult to the public’s intelligence: The man accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, who dragged an entire country through three costly election campaigns for a whole year in an attempt to evade justice, and who has, in the middle of an economic plague, just finished putting together the most bloated, wasteful, ostentatious, exploitative government Israel has ever known, is suddenly worried about the taxpayer’s money, and claims that his presence in court for a needless technical hearing would “cost the public a fortune.”

There is no end to the hypocrisy and the scheming. At every opportunity another burning issue pops up that exempts Netanyahu, as if he were above the law. His trial was to have started on March 17, but two days before that date the judges announced that it would be postponed for two months because of the spread of the coronavirus and the declaration by then-Justice Minister Amir Ohana of a state of emergency in the courts.

The fact that the Netanyahu trial will cost the public a fortune is not a reason to ease procedures, but more proof of the unreasonableness of a person under indictment for serious offenses serving as prime minister.

The claim that an indicted individual represented by a lawyer doesn’t have to appear in court to understand the charges must be rejected, precisely because the person under indictment is the prime minister. Precisely because of his high office, he must respect the legal proceedings, both in their essence and for appearances’ sake.

And so the prosecution did well to announce its opposition Tuesday to Netanyahu’s request not to appear for the beginning of his trial, and reminded us of the obvious: The presence of the prime minister at his trial has “importance in terms of justice being seen and public faith in the fairness and equity of the criminal process with regard to all those indicted.”

Netanyahu’s lawyers, faithful to the style of their master, were quick to sling mud at the prosecution and accuse it of a response that “does not stem from germane matters, but rather is meant to serve the media campaign, to present a picture of Prime Minister Netanyahu in the defendant’s seat as a continuation of the campaign of “anybody but Bibi.”

The new justice minister, Avi Nissenkorn, pledged at the ceremony marking his assumption of office Monday to maintain the independence of the judiciary and put an end to the phenomenon of gatekeepers needing bodyguards. Only a day after that pledge was issued, he has been given an opportunity to honor it.

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