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Yosef Zohar
The Institute for Safety in the Criminal Justice System

A Solution to the Netanyahu Quandary

Benjamin Netanyahu 2020 Creative Commons Zero (CC0)

President Roosevelt’s passing during his fourth term sparked speculation about a hypothetical fifth victory. His Vice President, Truman, seamlessly transitioned into the role and later secured his own election. During his tenure, presidential terms were capped at two, but this only applied to future presidents, not Truman. Notably, he opted not to pursue a third term.

Israel currently faces a complex dilemma. While Benjamin Netanyahu is no Roosevelt, nor unfortunately Truman, the ongoing legal proceedings against him have deepened societal divisions. The indictments fuel animosity among his opponents but solidify his grip on power among his supporters, who perceive him as unfairly targeted.

The intense polarization we witness stems partly from these indictments. Additionally, the inadequate military preparedness on October 7th can be partially traced back to this ongoing turmoil. Now, in the midst of war, holding a trial against the sitting Prime Minister presents an additional challenge.

Criminal law serves as a cornerstone of our democracy, ensuring both equality and protection from arbitrary rule. The judiciary plays a crucial role in upholding these principles, acting with courage and impartiality. However, it’s crucial to remember that the ultimate goal of law is to safeguard both national security and individual freedoms. In times of crisis, exceptional measures might be necessary to maintain national stability.

Precedents for such interventions exist. Following the Kav 300 affair, President Chaim Herzog granted pardons to Shabak agents involved in the killings of the two hijackers and concealed the fact that they had done so. Similarly, the Knesset enacted legislation offering amnesty to individuals prosecuted for offenses committed in the context of protesting against the disengagement. Both instances aimed to heal societal rifts, even if it meant deviating from legal norms to a certain extent.

The explanation for the bill is as relevant today as it was then: “In light of the deposits, alienation and hatred left by the disengagement plan among the people, a huge and urgent national task rests on the threshold of Israeli society to heal the rift, even if it has to act in certain areas beyond the letter of the law”.

In the future there will be a need to examine the issue of investigating prime ministers and limiting the term of office. However, the current focus should be on rising above immediate challenges and removing this burden from Netanyahu, which ultimately burdens the entire nation. This would allow him to make crucial decisions for Israel’s well-being, free from concerns about personal survival and with broader public acceptance. Furthermore, the charges themselves have faced criticism, with judges suggesting “breach of trust” rather than bribery.

Respecting the office of the Prime Minister necessitates allowing him to complete his term without the trial’s shadow looming over him. This move could pave the way for a national consensus on post-war politics and preserve the newfound unity forged during the conflict, even as we face challenging dilemmas. Additionally, canceling the trial might loosen Netanyahu’s grip on power, potentially leading to earlier elections and the formation of a broad center-right coalition.

This approach does not diminish the importance of upholding legal principles in the long run. A thorough examination of how Prime Ministers are investigated and term limits are applied remains crucial. However, in the current climate, prioritizing national unity and strategic decision-making might hold greater significance.

About the Author
Researcher and Lecturer, Department of Criminology at Western Galilee College. Managing director, The Institute for Safety in the Criminal Justice System. Research Fellow, Judicial Conflict Resolution (JCR) project at the Faculty of Law, Bar Ilan University.
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