Editorial

Rapid Probe of Netanyahu Is Essential

Considering Netanyahu's vehement denial of the graft suspicions against him, one would expect him to hasten to prove his innocence. Instead, he is making a mockery of the principle of equality before the law.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responds to John Kerry's speech, December 28, 2016.
Emil Salman

Benjamin Netanyahu was the first prime minister ever to be questioned under caution, i.e. as a suspect in a crime, while still in office (in the 1997 Hebron-Bar On case). After he lost the 1999 elections, he came under suspicion again, but once again avoided trial, despite the police’s recommendation and the harsh words (“ugliness”) of then-Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein.

In a civil suit filed by his moving man, Avner Amedi, who claimed Netanyahu owned him tens of thousands of shekels, the state joined the case as a third party and once again described Netanyahu in negative terms. Netanyahu has also been the subject of a harsh report by the state comptroller. He is no stranger to any of the various branches of the law enforcement system.

Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, was forced to resign when he became embroiled in criminal investigations. That resulted in early elections, which returned Netanyahu and his Likud party to power. Now police have spent the past few months conducting an inquiry – a precursor to a full-fledged criminal investigation – of suspicions that Netanyahu received various benefits from businessmen.

The precise definition of the alleged crimes – whether bribery, fraud, breach of trust or other – is slated to be formally announced by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, who has finally decided, after lengthy delays and excessive micro-management of the police’s work, to launch a full-fledged investigation. A criminal investigation enables the police to arrest, search and question any suspect under caution, including, in this case, the prime minister.

Mendelblit has so far given Netanyahu every possible break. He dragged out the inquiry for a long time and barred publication of its details, thereby deterring potential witnesses from volunteering information to the police. He took an extremely conservative approach that gave Netanyahu the benefit of every doubt. He wasn’t happy to reach the conclusion that a criminal investigation, including the questioning of Netanyahu under caution to obtain his version of events, was unavoidable. But because of Netanyahu’s status, the police investigators will do him the honor of coming to him instead of summoning him to the interrogation room. As a result, they are dependent on his willingness to host them.

Netanyahu’s response to date has been evasion accompanied by denial. He has stuck to his claim that “nothing will come of it, because there’s nothing there,” but is having trouble finding free time to persuade the investigators of the probe’s pointlessness.

Netanyahu accuses the media of persecuting an innocent man. One would therefore expect him to hasten to prove his innocence, so that he could then return with redoubled energy to affairs of state. He would also thereby set an example for ordinary citizens wanted for questioning. But instead, he is playing the victim and ignoring his obligations as a state official.

This behavior is intolerable, and the law enforcement system must not accept it. Before a petition is filed to the High Court of Justice against Netanyahu and the attorney general to force a rapid, uninterrupted investigation, Mendelblit must tell the prime minister to make himself available to the investigators with no further delay, for as much time as they need. Until then, he should refrain from holding any work meetings with Netanyahu, who is making a mockery of the principle of equality before the law.