Netanyahu’s gathering storm


It is certainly the mark of a strong democracy that a branch of government can investigate and recommend serious charges against a country’s prime minister. On that score, Israel appears to be doing well.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected last week’s police recommendation that he be charged on two counts of corruption, saying the allegations “cast a dark shadow” and “have no place in a democratic state.” We respectfully disagree. The very public process that is unfolding shows Israel to be a vibrant democracy — with faith in its judicial systems — that holds its leaders fully accountable.

The Netanyahu investigations have been lengthy and have prompted much public discussion. State prosecutors must now decide whether to file indictments.

Netanyahu is at the center of two probes. In one, known as Case 1000, he allegedly received lavish gifts from supporters in return for advancing their interests, including expensive cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan. In the other, Case 2000, Netanyahu is alleged to have conspired with Arnon Mozes, owner of the Israeli daily Yediot Acharonot, to advance legislation hobbling the free and pro-Netanyahu tabloid Israel Hayom that is bankrolled by American billionaire Sheldon Adelson.

Netanyahu has long maintained his innocence. “They won’t find anything, because there is nothing,” he has said. The police case against him is “full of holes, like Swiss cheese.” But the continuing process, and public disclosures of the investigation’s details seems to be having political impact. A day after the police announcement, a Jerusalem Post poll found 59 percent “of the public believe the criminal investigations of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu damage his ability to run the country and handle security crises.”

A weakened Netanyahu could make his ambitious coalition partners more restive. Education Minister Naftali Bennett — who is known to covet Netanyahu’s office — publicly chastised Netanyahu for “not living up to the standard of his office.” The sentiment has a familiar ring to it, echoing calls that Netanyahu made years ago when then-prime minister and future convict Ehud Olmert faced his own investigations and indictment.

Notwithstanding Bennett’s bias and clear motives, we share his concern. Israel is a strong, law-abiding democracy, of which we are proud. Israel strives to elevate morality in government to a higher plane and embraces wide-ranging discussion of ongoing developments. In that context, a sitting prime minister under the cloud of a recommended indictment for bribery and other official misdeeds does not inspire confidence in the country’s moral leadership. That doesn’t mean that Netanyahu is guilty of anything. It simply means that his guilt or innocence aren’t the only factors that need to be considered in evaluating the effects of this continuing criminal investigation.

As the process concludes, we hope that all involved will act in a way that assures justice, respects each person’s rights and confirms that Israel is, in fact, a light unto the nations.

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