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Op-Ed: Charges Against Netanyahu Should Be Dropped

The case for pardoning Israel’s prime minister

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Benjamin Netanyahu | Photo: Israeli govt photo

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President Rivlin should hold his nose and pardon Netanyahu. Despite Netanyahu.

 Never mind whether he’s innocent or guilty. Never mind that Netanyahu the politician will crow about his victory. Never mind that Netanyahu, the man, may end up having escaped a verdict that he deserves. Never mind, even, that the symbol of a prime minister as a person of integrity has already been, at the very least, dented.

 Rivlin should pardon him, because a sitting prime minister is not just a man nor just a politician, nor even just a symbol. The prime minister is the leader of the country. And Israel is not a sleepy country with nary a drama to contend with.

Pardoning someone before they’ve even received a verdict is not something that any president should do lightly, of course. Crimes against the State are fundamentally different than torts against an individual. They impact society and hurt the public interest in justice. Ideally no one person, not even the direct victim, should be able to dismiss the criminality of a charge. And that ought to go double for charges against public figures accused of corruption.

 But presidential pardons exist for a reason, and in this case the arguments in favour of a pardon outweigh the arguments against it.

 Netanyahu is charged with crimes (deception, breach of trust, briberty) that carry penalties that could include years in prison. Israel has already shown its willingness to jail former prime ministers and presidents. No human being can be indifferent to the risk of losing his liberty. Which means it’s simply impossible for Netanyahu not to be fundamentally distracted. Considering the anticipated lengthiness of the trial, for much of the rest of his premiership Netanyahu will be only half-able to concentrate on the very real job of protecting the country. 

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For a country that still faces a genuine existential crises, that should not be tolerated.

 Another argument in favour of a pardon is the damage this type of trial can inflict on a democracy. There is simply no way to separate the criminal and political aspects of a case against a long-and-still- serving politician.

 It is a real likelihood that a huge segment of Israeli society will see this trial as an attempt by Netanyahu’s political enemies to overturn the results of a democratic process. Much of Israel will be dismissive of any criminal aspect of this trial regardless. 

Benjamin Netanyahu | Photo: Dave Gordon

To put it mildly, this is a net negative for both the political and judicial branched of the government.

 More directly, whatever the verdict, the result will be politically tumultuous, and half the country will be disgusted by Israel’s judicial branch.

 Yet another factor to consider is the elections themselves. Although surprises are inevitable, the broad facts of the criminal charges against Netanyahu were well known before the (three!) elections in the past year. While mob justice is hardly desirable, it is insulting to the electorate not to take the public’s vote into account. 

 Netanyahu’s possible criminal actions did not result in the public’s broad repulsion the way a crime billed as corruption normally would. It did not result in the premier’s own party replacing him as their leader. It did not even hinder, despite election promises, his major political rivals from joining him in a coalition. It is in the public interest that a judge not be put in a position to effectively replace the electorate’s judgment with their own.

 The (only) bright spot about a preemptive pardon is that in a sense both sides win and lose. 

 Those who are convinced that Netanyahu is a blight on Israel and deserves to be thrown into jail will be no doubt sickened by the ‘ruthless’ leader’s escaping of justice,  and will decry the result, but will also be consoled by the fact that he was not actually found innocent. Conversely, those who favour Netanyahu”s version of events will be disappointed in the lack of clear vindication, but will be overjoyed at the lifting of this cloud over the rest of his term.

 Finally, a pardon might have one last effect. It might, however unlikely, spur deeper judicial reforms. The process of investigations and indictments of sitting politicians by Israeli police is in desperate need of an overhaul. Perhaps the prospect of the president intervening would motivate the powers that be to consider how this situation can, in the future, be avoided entirely.
Haskell Nussbaum holds degrees in physics and law, the latter from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He served as a judicial clerk to a Justice of the Supreme Court of Israel and served in the Golani Infantry Brigade of the Israel Defense Forces. He is also the author of 101 Ways To Help Israel, and has contributed articles to the Jerusalem Post, Jerusalem Report, National Post, Moment, the Jewish Week, HaModia and others. He has been interviewed in (or on) Fox and Friends, NPR, CBS News, USA Today and New York Magazine.
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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

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Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

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