LISTEN: Bibi's trial is expected to last for years, an ongoing sideshow to the circus that is Israeli politics
The first new email I receive each week after turning my computer back on after Shabbos comes from the Prime Minister’s office, detailing his Sunday schedule.
This week was no different. I clicked on the attached document. Only one event appeared. The regular Sunday morning cabinet meeting at 11 AM.
I scrolled down to see what the prime minister had going for 3 pm. Perhaps some mention of the opening day of his trial?
Nope. Nothing there.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, Bibi has been under investigation for years. He keeps repeating the same line: “Nothing will come of this because nothing happened.”
Netanyahu’s strategy all along has been the case is a non-event. No wonder it didn’t show up as an event on his calendar.
However, a three judge panel at the Jerusalem District Court did have Bibi on their agenda for 3 pm. Netanyahu showed up, fashionably late, as is his minhag. Israel does not have a jury system, so only the judges will decide his guilt or innocence.
There was plenty of political theater.
A handful of top Likud Knesset members accompanied Bibi, all wearing masks which made them look very unfashionable. Netanyahu addressed reporters, accusing his accusers of engineering a leftist legal coup to oust a sitting right-wing prime minister. This is a recurring theme we will hear for as long as the trial lasts, estimated at two or three years.
Once inside the courtroom, you might say Netanyahu stood on principle by refusing to sit in the defendant’s dock until the judges ordered all photographers to leave. The head judge, Miriam Friedman-Feldman hot into her first tangle with Bibi’s attorney Amit Hadad when the judge objected that Hadad wasn’t wearing a face mask.
At the same time, Israel’s parallel universes were operating in full swing. Pro-Netanyahu protestors gathered outside the courtroom waving placards of support for the prime minister while anti-Netanyahu forces held demonstrations a mile or two away near the prime minister’s home. Judging by the pictures, neither side practiced social distancing.
Back in the courtroom. Netanyahu did not enter a plea. Under Israeli law, he is only required the tell the judges that he read the charges and understands them. He told them he did. Later that night, Netanyahu told an interviewer on Channel 20 that the charges are not understandable because they are fabricated. He said a plea bargain is out of the question and he will fight in court to clear his name.
I am not going to regurgitate the laundry list of the charges. I’ve discussed them in previous articles and podcasts and you can read a slew of articles from Bibi’s armchair prosecutors and defenders as to his guilt or innocence.
To me, this is the overriding issue. This is a purely political trial.
Every politician in the world uses his position to feather his nest. Every politician in the world uses his influence to do favors for friends and those who can help him get ahead or further his agenda. That’s politics. We’re not dealing with Moshe Rabbeinu or Shmuel Hanavi who could look the people in the eye after decades of leadership and say with 100 assurance that they never took anything from anyone.
The same applies to the police investigators, prosecutors, and the attorney general. It’s laughable when they insist they are the consummate professionals, and their only consideration is preserving – may we have a drum roll – the rule of law.
Ever since Avichai Mandelblit became attorney general in February 2016, his PR machine spins his legend that that he is the ultimate in integrity. His judgment is untainted by any political considerations or personal motivations.
As any Israeli might say: Ayn davar cazeh. There is no such thing. No one questions these people’s qualifications, and no one is saying they are not professional, but just like Bibi is a politician, so are they. The big difference is the people elect Bibi while his accusers are political appointees. Bibi himself appointed Mandelblit. The state prosecutor, chief of police and the judges are also appointed by politicians or committees that include politicians. Without political connections and without owing a debt of gratitude to someone, you have no chance of getting your job. It’s not a rigged game, but it’s an exclusive club and membership comes with a price.
I’m not saying the verdict in Bibi’s case is a foregone conclusion. It is not. The judges will do their level best to examine the evidence and determine the credibility of all of the 330 witnesses and the defendants, who include two of Israel’s biggest media moguls. In the final analysis, the judges are being asked to decide whether Netanyahu used his position and influence in the normal ways in which a politician operates or whether he crossed a line – which is a moving target – and abused his power and position, either for personal gain or at the expense of Israeli citizens.
Most legal observers agree the bar should be set higher when it comes to deciding whether to convict a sitting prime minister and that Bibi should be given the benefit of the doubt to the greatest extent possible.
Netanyahu doubts that’s going to happen, and that’s why he’s declared war on the justice system, pointing out it is every bit as political as he is.
There will be two trials going on simultaneously. One in the court of law. The second in the court of public opinion. Netanyahu needs to win both cases. So does the prosecution. It’s going to be ugly. It’s going to last for years. And unfortunately, it will dominate the public discourse to the detriment to the state of Israel that faces much greater challenges than figuring out how many cases of champagne Bibi received and whether the headlines were complimentary to him or critical.
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