Mark L. Levinson
Like Israel itself, still ticking since 1948

You Have the Right, But…

I grew up watching cop shows on American TV, where the arresting officer would tell the criminal, “You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.”

In Israel, that would be “If you cannot afford an attorney, you may regret borrowing money to hire one.”

I’m trying to get my head around the ruling that Benjamin Netanyahu, who faces an indictment hearing, is forbidden to borrow hundreds of thousands of shekels from associates and family for his defense and has to return the hundreds of thousands he’s borrowed already.  When you defend yourself against a charge of speeding or drug possession or poisoning the neighbor’s dog, does anyone care how much you paid the lawyer or where you got the money?  Apparently, though, it can be an issue and in Netanyahu’s case it is.

I suppose there are only three things that could make this case a special one: the sources of the loan, the recipient of the loan, or the purpose of the loan. That’s all I can think of.  Let’s look at each possibility.

The sources are rich businessmen, and one is a relative with whom, the newspaper says, Netanyahu “had joint business interests up until 2009.” Did the businessmen earn their money unethically? There’s no such accusation. Was the money extorted from the businessmen? No such accusation.  Was it extracted from the businessmen by promises of future favors? If anyone’s picked that up by bugging a phone or a computer, the news media haven’t covered it. And we’ve seen a lot on the news.

We’ve seen Netanyahu smoking his Cohiba Siglo V cigars. We’ve seen transcripts of conversations. Everybody has seen almost every detail of the story except the phone number on the how’s-my-driving sticker of the van that delivered the gourmet take-out meals.  According to the Jerusalem Post, “the committee did not say that no public official could receive donations for their legal defense in any circumstance, but that the specific facts in Netanyahu’s case precluded such action.”  Maybe the specific facts are that we’re way ahead of the court system on this one — because everybody knows that any legal work on Netanyahu’s behalf is just an attempt to defend the indefensible.

But as Walt Kelly wrote, “Without me, nobody can be everybody.”  This time, Alan Dershowitz is the me.  He says the charges are “an expansive and unprecedented application of a broad and expandable criminal statute.”  In other words, even in Israel — where judges can retroactively criminalize almost anything that displeases them, by broadening a law’s interpretation or simply by invoking enlightened general values — the charges against Netanyahu are a reach too far.

Maybe so, maybe not.  But let’s suppose that they’re underhanded, Netanyahu and his friendly lenders, all the way down the line.  Even then, what makes the loan a problem?  What is supposed to be its evil purpose?  Israeli trials aren’t decided by a jury who could be bamboozled by the fancy courtroom tricks of an expensive legal team.  Considering the circumstances, Netanyahu is unlikely to try to bribe the court with that money.  I certainly hope nobody feels it’s necessary to crush the possibility that Netanyahu, given a large enough budget, will turn up evidence that disproves the charges against him.  All the loan can do is provide him with the best defense possible.  Are Israeli prosecutors and Israeli judges, feeling inadequate to face a strong defense team, intent on keeping it weak?  If that’s the attitude of our courts, it’s not too soon to ask “Who will defend the defenders?”

About the Author
Mark L. Levinson, in Israel since 1970, has worked as a writer for hi-tech companies and, now primarily, as a Hebrew-to-English translator.
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