For the country’s sake, Netanyahu’s trial must go on

The country’s law-enforcement system needs to be fixed, and only he can now lead the struggle to fix it.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Jerusalem District Court for a final pretrial hearing. He faces criminal allegations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, Feb. 8, 2021. Photo by Reuven Kastro/POOL.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Jerusalem District Court for a final pretrial hearing. He faces criminal allegations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, Feb. 8, 2021. Photo by Reuven Kastro/POOL.
Haim Shine

The more opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s trial moves forward, the more it appears his indictment, in which hundreds of millions of shekels have been invested and which has dragged Israel into a state of political chaos, was in fact aimed at promoting a government revolution.

And it worked. Central witnesses for the prosecution, who are mainly state witnesses, have now become witnesses for the defense. Police investigators on the witness stand say they did not really know what they were supposed to investigate, beyond the expectation they find a few testimonies to incriminate a target marked as corrupt in advance. The investigative methods have been revealed to be questionable, bolstering the impression that witnesses were improperly pressured and told what to say, among other things. Such methods are reminiscent of those used in dark regimes that combine propaganda, mass psychology and disinformation.

It seems every reasonable citizen has now come to understand that it is not just the opposition leader who is on trial but senior law enforcement officials, who have severely damaged Israeli democracy. We will pay for the damage for many years to come. There cannot be a genuine rule of law when the public’s level of trust in the law enforcement system has been reduced to an unprecedented low.

Netanyahu, therefore, did right by the State of Israel when he refused to surrender and decided to fight for his innocence. Had he quit, the cases against him would have likely been closed, and his bitter rivals in the media would have praised his courage. His obstinacy will pay off for all of us and ultimately lead to the comprehensive and vital repair of the justice system.

In recent days, the question of a plea bargain has been brought to the table. This is a complicated issue and an agonizing deliberation for Netanyahu. We must, however, differentiate between the private and the public realms. In the private realm, all reasonable people understand Netanyahu’s chances of receiving a fair trial are slim. A sweeping acquittal on all accounts would be too harsh an indictment of the law enforcement and justice systems to which the court belongs. Under such circumstances, a plea bargain could save a lot of aggravation, and years of litigation that could serve as fuel for the slanderous campaign against the former premier.

(Even if he were to decide to sign a plea deal, Netanyahu was right not to have agreed to do so earlier. His willingness to come this far has served to expose much of the State Attorney’s Office’s negligence and bias.)

Yet out of genuine concern for national values and the future of the state, the trial must go on. The many donors who contributed to Netanyahu’s defense campaign, which managed to raise impressive funds in hours, did so in the belief that the country’s law enforcement system needs to be fixed. This is not about charity for Netanyahu. It’s about the belief that only he can now lead the struggle to reveal the distortion and fix the justice system.

Otherwise, every elected official in Israel will be at the mercy of the system. In this manner, Israeli democracy will be handed over to a small and unelected oligarchy whose senior representatives will always find themselves in cushy positions after concluding their public service roles as Israel’s true leaders.

Dr. Haim Shine is a faculty member of Israel’s Academic Center of Law and Science, and a member of the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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