Will One Man Choose the Next Prime Minister of Israel?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is up for reelection and leading the polls. Israel’s attorney general Avichai Mandelblit wants to circumvent the democratic process and choose the next Israeli leader himself.

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Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister, State of Israel. (photo: Chatham House)

AG Knows Best

At the end of February, Israeli attorney general Avichai Mandleblit announced he would indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on three counts of bribery, fraud, and abuse of office.

Since Israel is one of the few democracies that offers no legal protection for sitting political leaders, elected officials are wide open to partisan challenge and politically-motivated investigations. This lack of proper oversight seriously calls into question Mandleblit’s decision to seek indictment so close to a contentious election.

An election widely seen by the world as a referendum, not only on the policies of the Israeli Prime Minister, but his warm relationship with controversial U.S. President Donald Trump.

The indictments also fall conveniently close to the election, but not so close as to finish before the election, depriving Netanyahu the benefit of being found guilty, or at least culpable, in a court of law before costing him the election.

If Prime Minister Netanyahu is made to appear guilty in the court of public opinion, without the opportunity to defend himself before the election, it suggests strongly the weakness of the attorney general’s case. If Mandelblit had a strong case, he would wait until after the election a.) to avoid the suspicion of political motivation, the wheels of justice turn slowly anyway and b.) maximum effect.

Removing someone from office once elected is a more powerful message to voters, who will feel shocked and betrayed by the party that tricked them into voting for a criminal.

In two high-profile cases of previous officials dragged through this process prior to election, Avigdor Liberman and Ariel Sharon, nothing came of the legal proceedings against them.

Polling shows Netanyahu ahead. But with these charges pending, it is difficult to tell how voting will be impacted.

However, the Prime Minster is not without his supporters. Prominent professor Alan Dershowitz refuted the charges against Netanyahu in an open letter to Mandelblit and argued an indictment would threaten Israeli democracy.

Even Bret Stephens, notorious Netanyahu critic, had a glowing assessment of the Prime Minister’s effectiveness at the helm of Israel in the New York Times.

“Israel’s critics may like none of this, but from an Israeli standpoint they are considerable successes.” — Bret Stephens, NYT

Using the office of Israel’s attorney general to further a political agenda is a dangerous strategy, one that could have radical implications for future Israeli elections.

It will also severely limit an elected leaders ability to effectively govern; with all their time wasted on endless investigations and rumored investigations. Getting nothing done doesn’t exactly help reelection chances.

The whole process undermines the entire point of democratic elections and sets the stage for a political party blame game that results in a weak, fractured government too embroiled in career survival to effectively govern anything.

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)

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