A heavy cloud hangs over the 2019 election. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit’s decision to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in three different cases on charges of breach of trust, fraud and bribery was received apathetically by Netanyahu’s natural coalition partners.
Not one member of the current governing coalition voiced disgust over the attorney general’s decision or the suspicions against Netanyahu, which were detailed in a horrifying 57-page document. Not one of them recanted its willingness to recommend Netanyahu as the next prime minister, and not one of them demanded that he withdraw his candidacy. Not one of them said it’s inconceivable for a man to run for prime minister of Israel when an indictment with suspicions of this sort is pending against him.
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All the coalition members, including Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party, said they would continue sitting in a Netanyahu government at least until his pre-indictment hearing. Embarrassingly, Shas, United Torah Judaism, Yisrael Beiteinu and the Union of Right-Wing Parties said they would even continue sitting in his government – assuming he forms the next government – if an indictment is actually filed. Kulanu and Hayamin Hehadash have so far refused to take an unequivocal stand on what they will do if that happens, and the same is true of Orli Levi-Abekasis’ Gesher party.
This silence of the lambs cries out to heaven, especially given the assumption that if Netanyahu is reelected, he will try to pass an Israeli version of the so-called French Law, which states that a sitting prime minister cannot be indicted while in office. Such a law, if it passes, could save Netanyahu from standing trial.
An unreasonable situation has thus been created, in which the government may well be formed conditionally and fall apart based on the outcome of the hearing, but could nevertheless exploit the time until then – while the legal process is at its height – to change the law to benefit the prime minister, thereby eliminating the condition that threatened his continued tenure.
Given this dangerous possibility, Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s remarks on Sunday are noteworthy. In an interview with the public broadcaster, Kan, Bennett said he is willing to consider enacting the French Law, but not to have it apply retroactively. “Retroactive legislation that applies to an existing situation – we don’t believe in such things,” he said. “We won’t support a law that applies to the current situation.” Kahlon has also voiced opposition to the French Law in the past.
The political battle between right and left can’t serve as an excuse this time. Anyone who votes for such a law is effectively lending a hand to a retroactive, ad hominem legislative maneuver meant to save a prime minister charged with high crimes from standing trial. Netanyahu obviously enjoys the presumption of innocence, and we shouldn’t put the cart before the horse. Nevertheless, his natural coalition partners are liable, through their conduct, to become his partners in crime.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.
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