“The charges against Netanyahu would never have been brought in an American court”

March 01, 2019

Netanyahu with the leaders of several African states, and with the sultan of Oman: among several diplomatic breakthroughs he has achieved in his current term in office

 

* Jonathan Tobin (JNS):

“The corruption allegations against Netanyahu are highly questionable… None would ever have been brought in an American [or British or French or German] court. The latter two charges amount to criminalizing a politician’s attempts to gain better coverage in a news media that is well-known to be overwhelmingly biased against him. That’s a shameful interference in the political process…

“The three cases for which he will be indicted are not the terrible crimes Netanyahu’s foes make them out to be... The first (called Case 1000) claims that Netanyahu is guilty of fraud and breach of trust because of his acceptance of expensive gifts. While the gifts were egregious, it’s not clear what law he broke when he pocketed the champagne and cigars. Nor is there any proof of a quid pro quo that would make the gifts a bribe. All the prime minister is guilty of is having wealthy friends and a rich man’s tastes.

“The second charge (Case 2000) is even more flimsy. It alleges that he committed a breach of trust by discussing a possible bargain with the head of a critical newspaper in which the publisher would give Netanyahu favorable coverage … Here again, Netanyahu broke no law, and since nothing came of the conversation, it’s hard to see how he breached the public trust.

“The third charge (Case 4000) sounds more substantial since it alleges that Netanyahu traded regulatory decisions that favored the Bezeq Company in exchange for favorable coverage on its Walla news site. But since Walla remained critical of the prime minister, it’s hard to see how that constitutes actual bribery. Even if Walla had flipped to favor the Likud, there is no law that says favorable coverage is bribery…

“But whether or not you agree that these charges should never have resulted in indictments, the process that led to their announcement on the eve of the election is outrageous. Throwing them out now – a week after the deadline for the parties to file their lists for the election – is as much of an unconscionable intervention in the democratic process as former FBI director James Comey’s last-minute revival of the charges against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton for mishandling classified emails in the days before the 2016 U.S. presidential election....

“Still, Netanyahu’s not beaten yet. Gantz’s views remain a mystery, and the next several weeks will provide him with a tougher test of his political mettle than he’s ever experienced. And as unfair as the timing of the indictments may be, it actually reinforces the view of most center-right voters that Netanyahu is being treated unfairly. Though Gantz is a plausible alternative because his stand on the conflict with the Palestinians doesn’t seem to differ much from that of the prime minister, the center-right consensus may still feel more comfortable with Netanyahu in charge. Nor would I put it past Netanyahu to mount a comeback once he’s acquitted on all charges – something even his foes concede is more likely than not.”

 

* David Horovitz (Times of Israel):

“For the first time in the history of Israel, a serving prime minister was informed by the state legal hierarchy on Thursday that he is to be indicted for criminal offenses…

“Netanyahu essentially argues that Attorney General Mandelblit, in the very act of announcing the intention to indict, has now already denied him the political presumption of innocence, and in so doing has skewed the elections. The attorney general has had his say, runs Netanyahu’s assertion, but since the hearing process cannot possibly be completed by the time Israel votes on April 9, the prime minister’s side of the argument will not be comparably known…

“Netanyahu now finds himself with a legal mountain to climb. Initially, the prime minister must seek to marshal a defense so credible as to convince Mandelblit that there is no case to answer… If Netanyahu fails to deter Mandelblit, the battle will then move to the courts, and a years-long legal process will ensue.

“But the protracted legal battle at the heart of this affair is not the prime minister’s urgent priority. First, there is the political battle – to see off opposition calls for his resignation and to persuade his colleagues, many of them potential rivals, that he remains an asset, a vote-winner, the leader who will secure their political good fortune.

“His political challenge in the next few weeks will be to retain his popularity including, crucially, by convincing voters that he is entirely capable of running the country and simultaneously mounting his legal defense.”

 

* Visiting Harvard Law School Professor Avi Bell (Tablet magazine):

“Attorney General Mandelblit’s announcement inserts law enforcement officials into the political arena in an unprecedented way, and on a very shaky legal foundation. If the legal theories that the attorney general is introducing against Netanyahu become general law, a considerable part of the democratic life of Israel will have to pass through police interrogation rooms. If they remain restricted to Netanyahu, the partisanship will permanently damage public trust in the Israeli legal system.”

 

* Former Jerusalem Post columnist (and now Knesset candidate) Caroline Glick:

“… Netanyahu [has been charged] relating to a conversation he had with Yediot Ahronot’s owner, Arnon Mozes. In it, the two men discussed the possibility of Netanyahu asking Israel Hayom’s owner, Sheldon Adelson, to cut back circulation and in exchange to receive positive coverage from Yediot Ahronot. In the event, Netanyahu took no such action, and Yediot’s coverage of Netanyahu is implacably hostile.

“As for Mozes, in recent weeks, it was reported that during the period in question, then-finance minister Yair Lapid met privately and secretly with Mozes dozens of times. Lapid claims he was asking Mozes for better coverage. Lapid is the head of the center-left Yesh Atid Party, which was a partner in Netanyahu’s coalition following the 2013 elections. At the time, his party controlled the education, social affairs, and science ministries, along with the finance ministry. And the Yesh Atid ministers in those ministries transferred millions of shekels to Yediot in the form of government advertisements.

“Lapid has not been questioned by police about his behavior.

“In truth, the police are right not to investigate the other politicians for their apparent quid-pro-quo arrangements with Mozes. After all, every politician seeks better and more expansive media coverage of his or her work. That is how they get elected. And every media company [all over the world] in turn trades its ability to provide positive coverage for advantages of one sort or another.”

 

SELECTIVE PROSECUTION?

[Note by Tom Gross]

This is a follow up to yesterday’s dispatch (Dershowitz: The selective targeting of Netanyahu “endangers Israeli democracy”) which was posted and sent before the decision by Israel’s Attorney General to indict Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.

I now attach three articles published last night after the Attorney General announced his decision.

They are by David Horovitz, editor of the Times of Israel (Horovitz has been very critical of Netanyahu in other pieces recently), Jonathan Tobin, editor of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate) and Professor Avi Bell in Tablet magazine. (For space reasons, and because it was published in December, I won’t include Caroline Glick’s full article)

Horovitz, Tobin, Bell and Glick are all friends of mine and subscribers to this list:

The Times of Israel and Tablet are centrist / center-left publications. JNS is center-right.

I attach these articles as a counterweight to the often one-sided reporting maligning Netanyahu elsewhere in the media today.

 

Tom Gross adds:

A reminder of what I wrote in yesterday’s dispatch:

Netanyahu is expected to be charged later today in what many believe is a part of a political witch-hunt by his opponents, who fear they can’t defeat him through the popular vote at the ballot box and wish to drive him from office instead over exaggerated and out of context charges for ‘crimes’ (including meetings with media owners to try and get more favorable coverage, or gifts of cigars when meeting business leaders) of the kind that that barely cause a murmur when politicians of all parties undertake similar activities in the UK, France, Germany and the US.

Perhaps Netanyahu has been in office too long. But the way to defeat him is for the opposition to put up a strong (and ideally, experienced) candidate and positive policies that will attract voters.


ARTICLES

THE NETANYAHU INDICTMENTS: UNFAIR AND INEVITABLE

The Netanyahu indictments: unfair and inevitable

The charges against the prime minister set an unfortunate precedent in more ways than one. Here are four takeaways from the charges against him.

By Jonathan Tobin
JNS
February 28, 2019

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s foes are cheering. The prime minister’s critics weren’t able to defeat him at the ballot box over the course of his current 10-year run in power. But regardless of the merits of the accusations or the appropriateness of the announcement just weeks before the next national elections, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s announcement that he will charge Netanyahu with wrongdoing in three separate cases may well put an end to the prime minister’s long political career.

The formation of a new centrist coalition – the Blue and White Party, under the leadership of former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz – had already called into question whether Netanyahu’s Likud Party would win on April 9. But with three indictments hanging over his head and the likelihood that if Netanyahu wins, a sitting premier would be put on trial sometime during the term of the next Knesset, the case for change just got that much stronger.

There are four main takeaways from the announcement.

The first is that Netanyahu must take some responsibility for putting Israel in such an unfortunate situation through his arrogance and sense of entitlement.

The second is that the corruption allegations are, in fact, highly questionable, and it’s hard to believe they can be sustained in a fair court of law.

The third is that the process that led to indictments on the eve of an election after years of discussion and investigation was deeply flawed.

The fourth is that while Netanyahu is certainly down, he’s by no means out.

The first point to be considered is that while the prime minister and many of his supporters may consider him to be irreplaceable, after a decade leading the country, he has clearly overstayed his welcome.

The case for term limits for leaders of nations is persuasive. The charges against the prime minister, even if they should never have been pursued as a criminal matter, speak to a certain arrogance and sense of entitlement that is inevitable when the occupant, as well as their families and underlings, start thinking they are untouchable.

That is certainly the case with Netanyahu. He’s served four terms as prime minister, including the last three in a row, and for all of his brilliance, masterminding and achievements, his act long ago starting wearing thin. The era in which Israel was run by ascetic leaders who lived and acted in a modest manner appropriate to a nation built on pioneering values – David Ben-Gurion and Menachem Begin wouldn’t have been caught dead accepting cigars and champagne by the caseload from wealthy admirers, as Netanyahu has done – has long been over, but that doesn’t excuse the Netanyahu clan’s often inappropriate behavior.

The alleged corruption cases all speak to Netanyahu’s high-handed manner and willingness to use his power in ways that leave him open to suggestions of wrongdoing, even if it can be argued that he did nothing illegal.

It’s also true that the “indispensable man” argument for keeping him in office is a function of Netanyahu’s unwillingness to promote allies or countenance the idea of a successor. Greater men than Netanyahu have done the same thing – Winston Churchill kept his designated successor waiting for him to retire for nearly a decade after World War II. The roster of talented people he (and reportedly, his wife Sara) has chased out of the Likud is impressive, including leaders of some of the parties that are the Likud’s coalition allies. If there is no one of stature waiting to take over the party that has ruled the country for the last decade, it’s because that’s the way the prime minister wanted it. And that’s why he has persuaded his supporters that fighting the indictments, rather than sparing the country this ordeal is necessary.

But the three cases for which he will be indicted are not the terrible crimes Netanyahu’s foes make them out to be.

The first (called Case 1000) claims that Netanyahu is guilty of fraud and breach of trust because of his acceptance of expensive gifts. While the gifts were egregious, it’s not clear what law he broke when he pocketed the champagne and cigars. Nor is there any proof of a quid pro quo that would make the gifts a bribe. All the prime minister is guilty of is having wealthy friends and a rich man’s tastes.

The second charge (Case 2000) is even more flimsy. It alleges that he committed a breach of trust by discussing a possible bargain with the head of a critical newspaper in which the publisher would give Netanyahu favorable coverage in exchange with the prime minister supporting legislation that would hurt Israel Hayom, the pro-Likud newspaper owned by casino magnate and philanthropist Sheldon Adelson. Here again, Netanyahu broke no law, and since nothing came of the conversation, it’s hard to see how he breached the public trust. The charge is also a joke because the effort to strangle Israel Hayom by the left-wing opposition parties and rival papers was itself an anti-democratic plot against freedom of the press that Netanyahu ultimately foiled.

The third charge (Case 4000) sounds more substantial since it alleges that Netanyahu traded regulatory decisions that favored the Bezeq Company in exchange for favorable coverage on its Walla news site. But since Walla remained critical of the prime minister, it’s hard to see how that constitutes actual bribery. Even if Walla had flipped to favor the Likud, there is no law that says favorable coverage is bribery.

I find it hard to believe that Netanyahu will be convicted of any of these charges, none of which would ever have been brought in an American court. The latter two charges amount to criminalizing a politician’s attempts to gain better coverage in a news media that is well-known to be overwhelmingly biased against him. That’s a shameful interference in the political process.

But whether or not you agree that these charges should never have resulted in indictments, the process that led to their announcement on the eve of the election is outrageous.

The police and the attorney general’s office have been investigating these charges for years. The police made their recommendations many months ago after a probe that lasted far longer than it should have. And Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit sat on his decisions, too. If indictments were in the offing, then they should have been announced months ago or held until after the election. Throwing them out now – a week after the deadline for the parties to file their lists for the election – is as much of an unconscionable intervention in the democratic process as former FBI director James Comey’s last-minute revival of the charges against Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton for mishandling classified emails in the days before the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

But fair or not, the indictments and the emergence of Gantz and his new party make it seem as if Netanyahu is finally down for the count. Polls were already trending against the prime minister, and that trend may only accelerate now.

Still, he’s not beaten yet. Gantz’s views remain a mystery, and the next several weeks will provide him with a tougher test of his political mettle than he’s ever experienced. And as unfair as the timing of the indictments may be, it actually reinforces the view of most center-right voters that Netanyahu is being treated unfairly. Though Gantz is a plausible alternative because his stand on the conflict with the Palestinians doesn’t seem to differ much from that of the prime minister, the center-right consensus may still feel more comfortable with Netanyahu in charge. Nor would I put it past Netanyahu to mount a comeback once he’s acquitted on all charges – something even his foes concede is more likely than not.

There’s no escaping the fact that Netanyahu’s time as prime minister may be about to end. If so, he may regret its tawdry finish, but it has still been a career filled with enormous achievements in terms of Israel’s economy and in safeguarding its security. Throwing a prime minister out of office who is widely acknowledged as having great success in this manner on such flimsy grounds sets an unfortunate precedent. As much as his enemies damned Netanyahu for standing strong against suicidal concessions on the peace process, as well as for alleged corruption, Gantz will be hard-pressed to match Netanyahu’s record. Even if the outcome of the story was inevitable, Israel will still be the poorer for losing such an able leader in this manner.

 

NETANYAHU’S LEGAL WAR WILL WAIT; IT’S HIS POLITICAL LIFE HE’S FIGHTING FOR NOW

Netanyahu’s legal war will wait; it’s his political life he’s fighting for now

The PM’s urgent priority, now that the AG has announced the intention to indict him, is to persuade enough of the public that he still should – and still can – run the country

By David Horovitz
The Times of Israel
28 February 2019

https://www.timesofisrael.com/netanyahus-legal-war-will-wait-its-his-political-life-hes-fighting-for-now/

For the first time in the history of Israel, a serving prime minister was informed by the state legal hierarchy on Thursday that he is to be indicted for criminal offenses.

To look at the glass half full, the case indicates that Israel has a robust and independent law enforcement and legal hierarchy, capable of investigating even the prime minister to ensure that all are subject to the law and equal before the law. To look at the glass half empty, the case means that after a former prime minister and a former president went to jail for criminal activities, a serving prime minister will now be put on trial unless he is able, in the course of the hearing process to which he is entitled, to persuade the attorney general to reconsider.

Benjamin Netanyahu insists that he has committed no crime. He claims to be the victim of a political witch hunt led by the left-wing opposition, left-wing media and a biased police force – all relentlessly pressuring Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, a man he appointed to the role but now describes as “weak.”

But Netanyahu essentially argues that Mandelblit, in the very act of announcing the intention to indict, has now already denied him the political presumption of innocence, and in so doing has skewed the elections. The attorney general has had his say, runs Netanyahu’s assertion, but since the hearing process cannot possibly be completed by the time Israel votes on April 9, the prime minister’s side of the argument will not be comparably known.

This is a tendentious claim: For one thing, Netanyahu has taken great pains, including via live TV broadcast, to present central aspects of his defense to the public. For another, it was he who chose to bring elections forward from their scheduled date in November.

But it is not a claim to be casually dismissed. A darker shadow does indeed now hang over Netanyahu. Until Thursday, it was widely reported that he would face charges of bribery and breach of trust in the investigations against him. But now, the reported allegations have become allegations formally advanced, after two years of investigation and evaluation, by the guardians of Israeli law enforcement. Coming so soon before the public goes to the polls to elect its next government, the official announcement patently impacts the elections. Whether it unfairly skews them is quite another matter. A counter argument can be advanced that not making the announcement, that not informing the public of allegations sufficiently well-founded as to merit an indictment, would have been a far graver abuse of democracy.

Mandelblit has elected to move toward charges with every awareness of the inherent shattering political consequence

Netanyahu now finds himself with a legal mountain to climb. Initially, the prime minister must seek to marshal a defense so credible as to convince Mandelblit – who has overseen the entire investigation, and has elected to move toward charges with every awareness of the inherent shattering political consequence – that he is wrong. That he has misunderstood. That there is no case to answer.

Suspects have achieved turnarounds in the hearing process. But it seems wildly improbable in this case, given Mandelblit’s central familiarity with the evidence, and given the concern and caution with which he must have weighed that evidence in deciding to proceed.

If Netanyahu fails to deter Mandelblit, the battle will then move to the courts, and a years-long legal process will ensue.

But the protracted legal battle at the heart of this affair is not the prime minister’s urgent priority. First, there is the political battle – to see off opposition calls for his resignation and to persuade his colleagues, many of them potential rivals, that he remains an asset, a vote-winner, the leader who will secure their political good fortune. To persuade them, in short, that despite the announcement or even because of it, he will secure re-election. Ehud Olmert, it should be recalled, was forced to step down as prime minister in 2008 before an indictment had been served against him – because he had become a political liability. Olmert only went to jail, at the end of an exhaustive legal process, a full eight years later.

Opinion polls indicate that Netanyahu has retained significant personal political popularity throughout the investigation. The Times of Israel’s own latest election poll, carried out this week in the run-up to Mandelblit’s announcement, still found him neck-and-neck with his new rival Benny Gantz as Israelis’ preferred prime minister.

His political challenge in the next few weeks will be to retain that popularity including, crucially, by convincing voters that he is entirely capable of running the country and simultaneously mounting his legal defense.

If support for Likud begins to ebb away, as the ToI poll suggested it will, Netanyahu the politician will be in deep trouble. And then, however improbable this may sound in a country where the words “Benjamin Netanyahu” and “prime minister” have become synonymous, Netanyahu the legal defendant could become a matter for an Israel that has moved on.

 

TROUBLE FOR THE FUTURE OF ISRAELI DEMOCRACY?

What Bibi’s Indictment Means

The Attorney General’s misguided decision to charge the Prime Minister with bribery and breach of trust may spell trouble for the future of Israeli democracy

By Avi Bell
Tablet
February 28, 2019

Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s announcement to the media, 40 days before general elections, that he intends to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on charges of bribery and breach of trust in three different cases was political drama of the highest order. There’s no gainsaying the importance to Israel’s politics and the election. But more importantly, Mandelblit’s announcement heralds a crisis for Israel’s democracy and the public image of its legal system.

Mandelblit’s announcement inserts law enforcement officials into the political arena in an unprecedented way, and on a very shaky legal foundation. If the legal theories that the attorney general is introducing against Netanyahu become general law, a considerable part of the democratic life of Israel will have to pass through police interrogation rooms. If they remain restricted to Netanyahu, the partisanship will permanently damage public trust in the Israeli legal system.

To be sure, Mandelblit’s announcement is only an interim step in the legal drama. Any actual indictment will have to wait for hearings in the attorney general’s office in which Netanyahu’s lawyers will be afforded the opportunity to attempt to dissuade Mandelblit from his chosen course. The hearings will take place after the election, and only in a year or so will Mandelblit be in a position to request that the Knesset lift Netanyahu’s immunity or formally file an indictment. And the political fallout will not end with the opinion polls now being conducted. It is likely that Mandelblit’s announcement will influence not only the number of votes received by the parties on April 9, but the coalition negotiations to follow.

Yet, while the ultimate political fallout remains unclear, the danger in the novel legal theories introduced by Mandelblit is stark. The criminal charges against the prime minister lack legal substance, and they threaten both the rule of law in Israel and the health of its democracy. Professor Alan Dershowitz said as much in several op-eds and an open letter to Mandelblit in recent months, and he is absolutely right.

A closer look at the three cases – known in Israel by their file numbers 1000, 2000 and 4000 – in which Mandelblit hopes to file charges illustrates the point.

Case 1000 involves repeated small gifts to the prime minister – primarily cigars and champagne – from Arnon Milchan and other affluent supporters of Israel over more than a decade, and the provision by Netanyahu of assistance on the level of constituent service. The police had sought a bribery charge, but Mandelblit seeks to charge Netanyahu with “breach of trust,” a notoriously vaguely defined crime.

As Dershowitz wrote, “Everyone acknowledges that friends are permitted to give wine and cigars to friends, even if the recipient is the prime minister. The accusation is that Netanyahu took too many such gifts and made too many favors in return. But how many are too many? The law doesn’t say. It’s a matter of degree. But matters of degree should not be the basis for criminal prosecutions …. No one should be charged with a crime unless he has willfully crossed a bright line and plainly violated a serious criminal statute. To bring down a duly elected prime minister on the basis of an expansive and unprecedented application of a broad and expandable criminal statute endangers democracy.”

It does not help Mandelblit’s case that Milchan and the others have befriended and asked favors of many Israeli politicians over the years. In an interview in 2013, Milchan proudly counted among his friends former Prime Ministers Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon, and Shimon Peres, and senior Israeli politicians Tzipi Livni, Avigdor Lieberman, and Silvan Shalom, as well as Netanyahu’s rival Yair Lapid (who would become prime minister in a rotation agreement, were his Blue and White party to win the coming elections), as well as, of course, Netanyahu. The main favor Milchan requested – an extension of an existing tax break for new immigrants and returning Israelis – is one that Milchan discussed with Lapid and which Lapid initially supported. No charges have been or will be filed against Lapid or Milchan.

Cases 2000 and 4000 are even more troubling, as both depend on the idea that positive media coverage of public officials is a currency, like coin, that can turn into bribery when in exchange for policies or decisions. In both cases, Netanyahu is charged with crimes for seeking more favorable coverage from traditionally hostile media outlets in exchange for lawful regulatory action.

Case 2000 involves discussions between Netanyahu and Noni Mozes, the publisher of the Yediot Ahronot newspaper. Mozes, who makes no secret of the heavy hand he uses in his newspaper and publishing empire to support favored causes and politicians, sought a law that would cripple a rival newspaper – Sheldon Adelson’s Yisrael Hayom – and he was willing to reduce his traditional hostility to Netanyahu if the prime minister would help. Netanyahu agreed to explore the possibility, though Mozes ultimately had to work without the prime minister. Mozes’ proposed law, which would have outlawed Yisrael Hayom, was opposed by Netanyahu, but supported by f43 members of Knesset. Mandelblit seeks to charge Mozes with bribery and Netanyahu with breach of trust. No charges have been or will be filed against the 43 members of Knesset who actually gave Mozes what he asked for.

Case 4000 revolves around discussions between Netanyahu and senior management of Bezeq, a telephone company that owns Walla, the internet news site. Netanyahu pressed Bezeq management to dial down Walla’s hostility at the same time as Bezeq was being scrutinized by civil servants for a merger with the cable company Yes that was ultimately approved. Mandelblit claims that accepting the better coverage from Walla constitutes the acceptance of bribes.

Dershowitz correctly observes, “The relationship between politics and the media – and between politicians and publishers – is too nuanced, subtle and complex to be subject to the heavy hand of criminal law. Many votes by politicians are designed, in part – whether consciously or unconsciously – to garner favorable coverage from the media and to achieve other self-serving results. In many cases, a piece published by a reporter, editor or publisher is also calculated to some degree to promote self-interest – whether economic, political or career-related. To empower prosecutors to probe these mixed motivations is to empower them to exercise undemocratic control over crucial institutions of democracy.”

Indeed, the clearest recent case of quid pro quo coverage in recent Israeli political history involved not Netanyahu but one of his predecessors. Israeli journalist Amnon Abramovich famously called on his fellow journalists to treat Ariel Sharon “like an etrog” – i.e., to give him kid glove treatment – so long as Sharon moved forward with his plan to withdraw unilaterally from the Gaza Strip. The etrog treatment has been widely invoked since, and, indeed, some journalists have publicly mulled granting Netanyahu etrog treatment in exchange for more dovish policies toward the PLO. Until the police and Mandelblit announced their approach to cases 2000 and 4000, no one suspected that etrog treatment was felonious.

The dispiriting truth is that there have always been two ways to understand the investigations against Netanyahu, and the implications for Israeli democracy are alarming.

One way to look at the investigation is as a neutral application of a new understanding of the traditional crimes of bribery and breach of public trust. Under this interpretation, Mandelblit’s capacious understanding of the crimes of breach of trust and bribery may be unprecedented, but will now be applied across the board to all public officials and politicians. The horrifying result will be police oversight of nearly all interactions between media and public officials. When the evening news devotes 15 minutes of generally positive coverage to Benny Gantz or to Mandelblit himself, producers and reporters may have to expect a summons to a police interrogation where they will be asked to demonstrate the purity of their motives. Politicians and public officials in constant touch with the media – that is, everyone in public life – will always find themselves on the verge of conviction of the felony of taking bribes, or, at least, “breach of public trust.” The center of Israeli political life will move to interrogation rooms in police stations.

The other interpretation is that the investigations should be seen as Netanyahu and his supporters paint them: special rules that are meant to apply only to Netanyahu. Israeli political life will not move to the police station, but will face the constant threat that law enforcement authorities may suddenly decide to apply “Bibi rules.” The harm to Israeli democracy of double standards in the criminal law based on prosecutor’s will would be incalculable. And law enforcement officials could never be seen as nonpartisan again.

There’s ample evidence for both interpretations of the prosecution – neutral and partisan – but it doesn’t really matter which is right: Both indicate a severe crisis in Israel’s democratic governance.

We can only hope that the attorney general’s office reconsiders its course. But I fear that much of the damage has already been done, and it will take many years for Israel’s democracy to recover.

 

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