When Netanyahu Is Afraid to Lose

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu giving a speech, February 21, 2019.
Moti Milrod

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit is expected on Thursday to announce his intent to file corruption charges against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, subject to a hearing.

Thus will end another chapter in the legal drama the Israeli public has been following for the past two years. Mendelblit’s announcement will end a long period of uncertainty regarding the position of the state prosecution on the allegations against the prime minister.

But the drama is far from over. The State of Israel is in the midst of an election campaign, which was brought forward by Netanyahu specifically to exert political pressure on the attorney general to postpone announcing his decision until after the election. But contrary to the prime minister’s plans, Mendelblit did not succumb to the pressure.

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When Netanyahu failed in this mission, he began a campaign to delegitimize the attorney general and the plan to announce the decision, similar to the way he sought to undermine the credibility of former Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich. In a desperate attempt to void the attorney general’s impending decree, Netanyahu on Wednesday wrote a Facebook post quoting a letter that attorney Alan Dershowitz had sent to Mendelblit.

In it, Dershowitz reduced the allegations against Netanyahu to “criticism of the relationship between media and the government,” said that prosecuting Netanyahu would “open up a Pandora’s box out of which would flow a parade of horribles,” and concluded that the matter “should be left to the voters, not prosecutors.” Dershowitz thus belittles the police, the prosecution and the attorney general.

Netanyahu didn’t suffice with the words of the expert witness he summoned to the show trial he arranged on Facebook; he also offered his public verdict on the attorney general. “Not only do you know that we’re speaking here of the shattering of every democratic norm … we’re talking here about tailored accusations, political persecution, and the shattering of every basic norm,” the prime minister wrote. As usual, he is accusing the prosecution of trying to frame him.

Netanyahu’s cunning methods are well known: When he’s afraid he’s going to lose, there is no limit to the lies he is willing to spread. The awful video released by Likud, which attacks Kahol-Lavan chairman Benny Gantz and the left against the background of a military cemetery, is another example.

The attorney general’s decision to publicize his position on the Netanyahu cases before the elections, and despite the pressures exerted on him, is admirable. One must hope Netanyahu will respect Mendelblit’s opinion and avoid any further incitement campaign.

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