By Rabbi Chaim Landau
Last week, Israel’s attorney general publicly declared on Israeli TV that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should stand trial for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. Let it not be forgotten that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is member of the Likud party and was hand-selected by none other than the prime minister himself.
There are those who have compared Netanyahu’s current circumstances to President Donald Trump’s criminal investigations by the House of Representatives as they consider articles of impeachment against the sitting president. While both leaders could, possibly, be removed from office, the differences (to me) are clear.
The president might very well have been involved in a quid pro quo (now everyone has become a Latin expert!) for threatening to withold American monies for Ukraine’s weaponry needs in support of Ukraine investigating Hunter Biden and possible conflicts of interest Biden may have had with the company on which he was a member of the board. The reward for Trump would have been totally political, as he sought to neutralize an already politically ailing Joe Biden as the Democratic front runner in the 2020 battle for the presidency.
For Netanyahu, however, the reward was downright graft: real gifts offered for favors returned, a life of luxury for promises to be kept — the kind of behavior we normally associate with a third world leader seeking favors and gifts from cronies, whoever they might be. Yes, Netanyahu is the longest serving Prime Minister of Israel, but therein lies the rub: the responsible assumption of the national privilege of public service has transformed into the willful self-service that has gotten in the way of Netanyahu’s high-rating leadership. In the prime minister’s case, the charges are clear: fraud and breach of trust in two cases involving gifts and an alleged quid pro quo with a newspaper owner, together with bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in which he is accused of trading regulatory favors worth hundreds of millions of shekels in exchange for positive media coverage.
This marks the first time in Israel’s history that criminal charges have been issued against a sitting prime minister. But they could not have come at a most opportune time for Netanyahu. For Israel finds himself in a political mess with no real winner from the last two elections held over the past year, and so the process against Netanyahu may yet take weeks and months before anything substantial is realized. And by that time, Netanyahu, as the Prime Minister might be able to dodge the charges because of the position he would still find himself holding.
The extraordinarily sad part of this all is the manner in which the prime minister has gone on the offensive against the very legal institutions that are intended to uphold the rule of law. He has condemned them for their political alliances with left wing groups who seek to limit Israel‘s power and standing in the Middle East specifically and in the world generally. In other words, the very judiciary and law enforcement machine which is made to guarantee and strengthen Israeli law and order has just been written off as corrupt by a prime minister facing his own criminal charges.
What a horrendous charge to make against your own legal system.
The wiser route to take would have been to temporarily leave office and fight these charges as a private individual; and then, if acquitted, make a return to the political world. Instead, Netanyahu’s manner of fighting the charges in a frame of mind that leaves him politically handicapped would be a terrible injustice done to the country, which needs its political leaders to be the most respected, trusted, and faithful to their office, no matter the duration of their terms in power.
I grieve for the man. I had always held him to the highest of standards and principles as I held my head high with pride during his role as Israel’s great political world leader whose words to the world I treasured as if they were pure gold. Now, as he fights for his political life, he has neutralized the very pride I associated with his character, and made a mockery of the very institution he was elected to uphold as part of his leadership role.