What began as a good week for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ended in his indictment for corruption. It is the first time that a sitting Israeli PM has been indicted.
Early in the week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that America would no longer agree to the 2016 UN Security Council resolution (No. 2334) that said the Israeli settlements in the West Bank area were a flagrant violation of international law. That determination was utter nonsense. With the exception of the Geneva Conventions on the law of war, “international law” — especially as the UN uses that term — is nothing but politics. There’s no law involved, international or otherwise.
The effects of Pompeo’s announcement are highly significant. Netanyahu has said he wanted to annex parts of the West Bank — Judea and Samaria — in which settlements are already a part of the landscape. The announcement strengthened Netanyahu’s hand in any negotiations with the Palestinians. It also indicated that President Trump believes that the long-awaited peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians — brokered by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner — is no longer viable.
Pompeo’s announcement was right on all counts. But then came the indictment.
The investigation by Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has been going on for about three years. Netanyahu, recalling the words of President Trump, had called the investigation by a “witch hunt.” Though the case against Netanyahu is vastly different than the risible House impeachment proceedings against Trump, the “witch hunt” characterization seems to be right on the money.
The chaotic state of Israeli politics has continued through two elections this year. Both were won by Netanyahu, and on both occasions he was unable to form a coalition government. Neither Netanyahu nor his principal opponent, former general Benny Gantz, has won enough parliamentary seats or organize a coalition government. In the latest iteration, the indictment against Netanyahu was issued the day after Gantz gave up on his latest attempt. That will result in the third Israeli election in a year.
The indictment doesn’t mean that Netanyahu must resign from office, and he shouldn’t. Israel’s constitution and laws don’t have an impeachment mechanism such as our Constitution provides, but Israeli courts have removed officials by “judicial review,” meaning a trial.
Netanyahu could ask Israel’s parliament — the Knesset — to give him immunity while he is in office, but they probably won’t. The Israeli supreme court could bar the prosecution until Netanyahu is out of office, and it just might.
The most likely result is that Netanyahu will have to simultaneously defend himself against the charges, conduct policy to defend his tiny nation against Iran and other enemies, and run yet another campaign for reelection.
The threats Israel faces are both dire and immediate. Iran continues its buildup of forces in Syria to threaten Israel. Last week, after Iran fired at least four rockets into Israel from Syria, Israeli air force jets bombed Iranian and Syrian positions in retaliation. This is one of the many major threats Israel faces and from which Netanyahu will be distracted by his indictment, trial, and political campaign.
But no democracy — even in a situation as dire as Israel’s — can tolerate a leader who has proven himself unfit for office. Netanyahu is indicted on charges that, if proved, should result in his removal.
Our Constitution provides that the president can only be removed from office by impeachment. That is the reason that the Mueller allegations of obstruction were rejected by Attorney General William Barr (and blocked from effect by the Justice Department’s regulations effectively barring indictment of a sitting president).
The Founders understood that the removal of a president is, and must be, a political remedy. Presidents can be prosecuted for crimes they have committed while in office, but only after they are impeached or voted out of office. It is of historic importance that the authors of Israel’s constitution and laws made no such distinction. They, unfortunately, left what should be a political action to their criminal justice system.
Unlike the Schiff Show — which has yet to produce any evidence of conduct by Trump worthy of impeachment — the indictment against Netanyahu is based on allegations of the real crimes of bribery and corruption.
The first part of the indictment alleges that Netanyahu accepted gifts from billionaire Arnon Milchan in exchange for policy favors. The second part alleges that Netanyahu conspired with newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes to weaken a rival newspaper in return for more favorable coverage from Mozes’ paper. The third part alleges that Netanyahu pushed regulatory changes worth hundreds of millions of dollars to benefit Bezeq, a large telecom company, in exchange for positive coverage from its news website.
The charges are probably bogus — as my friend Mark Levin has proclaimed them to be — but they nevertheless are a crippling blow to Netanyahu’s ability to govern and defend his country.
Mandelblit’s indictment of Netanyahu establishes a highly dangerous precedent in Israeli law. By indicting Netanyahu, Mandelblit has made every Israeli prime minister prey to political prosecutions. That kind of prosecution — as we shall see in the coming months — fundamentally damages Israel’s democracy.
The only way to preserve Israel’s democracy is for its supreme court to block the prosecution from proceeding until Netanyahu is voted out of office. It’s less than even money that the court will do so.
Mandelblit’s action is very much like former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, which stated 10 possible charges of obstruction of justice by Trump. The indictment of Netanyahu should have been kept under seal and the evidence supporting it preserved until such time that Netanyahu retired or was voted out of office. The Mueller report’s allegations — which the report states are insufficient to bring charges — should never have been included in Mueller’s report. (They were insufficient to even feature in the Schiff Show but they are part of the background to the House’s coming impeachment of Trump.)
Democracies exist at the sufferance of people who are generally ignorant — many willfully so — of the evil of the alternatives to democracy. Those people, such as the governing elites of many democracies, feel free to undermine them by ignoring and even abusing the consent of the governed.
As I wrote earlier this month, both the United States and the United Kingdom have had their democracies paralyzed by irresponsible elites. Israel, by the indictment of Netanyahu at a time of political and national security crises, has made it a threesome.
All three democracies will survive, but for how long and in what form? The damage each one is suffering will reduce the length of time that nation can remain free.
Correction: Last week’s column said that Navy SEAL CPO Eddie Gallagher had retired from the Navy. He has not. The Navy treated Gallagher unconscionably in his court martial (in which he was acquitted of murder and convicted of the throw-away charge of posing with the body of a dead enemy). President Trump restored Gallagher’s rank and pay status. The Navy had intended to remove Gallagher’s name from the ranks of the SEALs, taking away his right to wear the SEAL badge, but President Trump intervened. Defense Secretary Mark Esper fired Navy Secretary Richard Spencer on Sunday after Spencer tried to reach a compromise with Trump. After Esper’s firing of Spencer, it has been announced that Gallagher will not be removed from the SEALs’ ranks. Gallagher is expected to retire from the Navy very soon at his restored rank and pay grade and as a member of the SEAL community thanks to the president’s actions.