The hearing of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the criminal cases against him will begin Wednesday, nearly three years after they were opened. (Cases 1000 and 2000 came first, followed later by Case 3000.) That is an unreasonable period of time, including in comparison to investigations of and legal steps taken against other public figures. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit is responsible for this.
The consequences of his conduct are very obvious: Israel is in the midst of a prolonged crisis of government, the Knesset and cabinet are not functioning and the public may soon be called upon to go to the polls for a third time within several months. The prime minister’s affairs keep him from being able to form a government and make him, as the negotiations after the April election proved, vulnerable to extortion by his coalition partners, who can ask him for anything in exchange for advancing various laws aimed at allowing him to evade justice. The prolonged crises prove repeatedly that the entire political establishment will remain paralyzed until a decision is made regarding the future of the prime minister, who instead of vacating his office until he proves his innocence is holding the state that he leads hostage.
Caution and consideration are positive, necessary traits, particularly when the fate of a serving prime minister is weighing in the balance. But Mendelblit has made them a pretext for a long, slow, nerve-wracking procedure. The attorney general’s behavior signals hesitation and lack of confidence that are thoroughly exploited by Netanyahu the suspect, whose unbridled attacks on law enforcement continue to shock. As if he were not the prime minister, who is responsible for protecting the state’s institutions, Netanyahu incites against the police and the prosecution, destroying his supporters’ faith in them. His efforts to advance legislation that will allow him to escape prosecution, as if Israel were a dictatorship whose laws should be tailored to fit its emperor, are simply shameless.
Netanyahu and his lawyers submitted, in preparation for the hearing, a one-page document void of any arguments and even tried to embarrass the attorney general with populist demands such as requesting that the hearing be broadcast live. The writing on the wall is clear: In light of his behavior up to now, Netanyahu and his attorneys are not treating the hearing in a manner demanded of every citizen in a country governed by laws. Rather, they intend to turn it into a political circus.
Mendelblit must not surrender to the bullying of Netanyahu, who will accept nothing short of the closure of his cases for lack of guilt, even at the price of destroying Israeli democracy. The attorney general must publish his decision on the indictments shortly after the hearing, without delay.
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The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.