On Thursday evening, Israel’s attorney general announced that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be charged with criminal wrongdoing in three cases, marking the first time in Israel’s history that a sitting prime minister has been indicted.
In Netanyahu’s historic indictment are an ever-increasing number of similarities between how the American left has repeatedly targeted President Trump and the way the Israeli legal establishment, largely left-leaning, has chased Netanyahu. Indeed, following the model of the U.S. House Democrats, the Israeli left is beginning its own circus of invented crimes, selective leaks, and unreliable witnesses to cobble together something that might resemble a transgression worthy of removal. Like his American counterpart, Netanyahu has called the process a “coup” and a “witch hunt”– and he is fully accurate in this assessment.
The Justice Ministry released a copy of the indictment, which indicated that Israel’s longest-serving prime minister will be charged with “fraud and breach of trust” in two cases, labeled 1000 and 2000, and with “bribery” and “fraud and breach of trust” in Case 4000. In Israeli criminal law, “fraud and breach of trust” are a single charge.
One Israeli close to the investigation commented on background that the indictment amounted to “bizarre, unjustifiable charges,” and an examination of each case seems to justify this interpretation.
No Evidence of Wrongdoing
Case 1000 involved the reception of hundreds of thousands of shekels worth of gifts, mostly champagne and cigars, from wealthy individuals seeking to court favor with the prime minister. Unseemly, perhaps, but given no explicit exchange of favors took place, it is hard to argue that such gifts amount to an indictable offense.
Case 2000 involves the accusation that Netanyahu failed to properly reject an offer of less hostile media coverage from the owner of the Israeli newspaper Yediot in exchange for more favorable business regulations. It is critical to note that this alleged “exchange” never took place. In fact, the owner of Yediot approached Netanyahu with an offer that he apparently made to a number of other politicians–something to the effect of, “Push my bill, and I will write nice stories about you.”
Several other politicians, like Labor Party’s Eitan Cabel, the person who sponsored the bill, were suspected of striking a deal with Yediot but denied it. Netanyahu is accused of failing to turn down an offer he never accepted. While the bill was voted into law on its first reading in the Knesset by a wide margin of 43-23, Netanyahu and other Likud party members actually voted against the bill. Unsurprisingly, many of those who voted in favor of the bill enjoy favorable coverage in Yediot.
Lastly, Case 4000 alleges that in exchange for positive coverage, Netanyahu advocated for regulatory decisions that were financially fortuitous for the controlling shareholder of the Bezeq telecommunications group, Shaul Elovitch. However, according to a senior official close to the investigation, the case lacks any direct evidence that Netanyahu and Elovitch agreed to such an exchange, and both deny that such a deal was ever made.
In fact, according to documents accidentally leaked from the AG’s office to Netanyahu’s team, one of the supposed “star witnesses” for Case 4000, Netanyahu aide Nir Hefetz, was essentially extorted into offering testimony at the risk of the police exposing his affair and destroying his family. Transcripts reveal that Hefetz has repeatedly changed and “refreshed” his testimony throughout the investigation.
In Israel, it’s worth noting that bribery doesn’t necessitate a quid pro quo. It merely requires a gift with the expectation of receiving something in return, even if that expectation is never actually fulfilled and the expectation is for something totally legal. Thus, under the AG’s new regime, if positive coverage can serve as a component of a bribe and only half a bribe needs to be executed upon to constitute bribery, positive coverage or mere words effectively amount to bribery, even if nothing is delivered in return.
Is Positive Coverage a Bribe?
What’s particularly astonishing is that Case 4000, like Trump’s July 25 call, is supposedly the “bombshell” case. But in both cases, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that each is a far cry from that.
Cases 4000 is unusual because it contends that giving a public official positive coverage in exchange for an official act constitutes a bribe. According to lawyers for Netanyahu, no jurisdiction anywhere else in the democratic world has ever treated positive coverage as something that can be given as a bribe.
Last month, lawyers representing Netanyahu attempted to challenge the accusations in hearings spanning several days. The AG’s office stated that the defense was insufficient to defeat the charges. However, the lead attorney for the AG on the cases went on vacation in the middle of the hearing, leading to accusations that the AG’s team was treating the hearings as a joke.
In the United States, we’ve had Democrats treat the impeachment probe with a similar level of unseriousness, from Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) promoting gear with the phrase “Impeach the MF!” to Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA) donning a Batgirl costume the same day as the historic “impeachment inquiry” vote. Every so often, the mask slips (pun entirely intended), and the true farce is revealed.
But as Avi Bell, one of Netanyahu’s lawyers, told The Federalist, “It’s not nefarious to bargain for coverage.” He elaborated, “The work of politicians is selling their political image. If Bibi is guilty, then every public official and reporter is, as well.”
As one senior official close to the investigation suggested, “Going after the prime minister is not something that scares the attorney general, but excites him; he’d be perfectly willing to go after him on a weak case. Paradoxically, the weaker the case, the better [the AG’s] chances in court, because he has confidence that even if he loses at trial, ultimately, the Supreme Court won’t let him be embarrassed by having all the cases tossed.”
‘Voters Don’t Decide Anything. The Lawyers Do’
With the bribery charge, the Israeli legal establishment believes they’ve employed the magic word that will prompt Israeli voters to wince. With it, there’s no question that some type of threshold has been crossed.
The Israeli legal establishment resembles the American deep state in many ways. “There is a legal fraternity in Israel consisting of the attorney general and subsidiary government lawyers, as well as of Supreme Court judges and subsidiary courts,” said a senior Israeli official close to the investigation. “They harbor an interconnectedness and power that is unique in the democratic world.”
He explained, “Criticizing the fraternity will not only kill the career of any enterprising lawyer, it may well land the critic in jail on trumped-up charges.” A prime example of this phenomenon can be found in the career of Ruth Gavison, a prominent Israeli jurist on the left, who was demonized in the early 2000s for voicing criticism of excessive judicial activism.
In this legal fraternity, there is an unmistakable level of “organization,” and unsurprisingly, roughly half of previous attorney generals in Israel have landed on the Supreme Court, a statistic somewhat indicative of such coordination.
As Caroline Glick, a longtime Israeli reporter, wrote earlier this week, “Voters don’t decide anything. The lawyers do. Politicians are irrelevant. The only people who count in Israel today are the unelected attorneys who run the country.”
Parallel Avalanches of Leaks
These types of charades, whether in Israel or the United States, do little to actually improve the health of a democracy — they, in fact, destroy it. Ruthie Blum, an Israeli author and longtime political columnist for the Jerusalem Post, told The Federalist, “The indictment is a prime example of the Israeli Left trying to criminalize the uncriminal behavior of a political rival that they are unable to beat at the ballot box.”
Blum said the recent charges against Netanyahu amounted to a usurping of the democratic process. “In Netanyahu’s case the charges are so ludicrous, that no American, even a Democrat, would think to charge Trump for such actions.”
In the same way that incomplete and misleading transcripts from the closed-door impeachment hearings have been leaked to the American press, resulting in inaccurate reporting, so too is Israel facing its own phenomenon of distorted leaks regarding the probe into Netanyahu, even though leaks are a felony offense in Israel. As reported by Glick, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has not prosecuted one leak, despite repeated requests from Netanyahu’s lawyers.
But it seems the Israeli public is wearying of the legal fraternity’s machinations, as suggested by recent polls, which indicate that nearly a third of the Israeli public report a low or very low level of confidence in Israel’s judicial system. Compare this decline to the waning support for the Trump impeachment among independents, who oppose impeachment by a 15-point margin now, a 10-point decrease in support from last month.
Conveniently Timed to Disrupt a Political Opponent
Both cases represent a legal or political establishment attempting.to undercut a political leader with whom they are deeply dissatisfied. And the timing of both the impeachment inquiry, initiated during the Democratic primaries, and the announced indictment could not be more indicative of that sentiment.
As Eugene Konotorovich, director of George Mason’s Center for International Law in the Middle East, noted on Fox News yesterday, the choice in timing by the Israeli legal establishment is likely no coincidence. The AG announced the charges on day one of the 21-day stretch where Netanyahu has the opportunity to try to form a government after both Netanyahu and his chief opponent Benny Gantz each failed to form a coalition.
Akin to a “free for all,” anyone in the Knesset can technically attempt to form a coalition during this period, although all eyes will be on Netanyahu and Gantz. However, it will be staggeringly difficult for Netanyahu to build a coalition while fighting corruption charges, and the Israeli legal establishment full-well knows that.
Much in the same way one could argue that the latest impeachment circus waged against President Trump is a machination of House Democrats who still haven’t recovered from Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016, it’s arguable that the recent charges lodged against Netanyahu — which invent new crimes — are a similar reaction, resulting from the opposition parties’ own failure to win elections and form a coalition. Regardless of one’s feelings on Netanyahu, no one should celebrate these charges against the sitting prime minister. As maneuvers of a partisan legal establishment, the indictments represent a genuine threat to democracy, not an expression of it.