Monday, December 2, 2019

Is Netanyahu's Refusal to Step Down to Face Charges a Foreshadowing for the US?

by Nomad

What with the impeachment hearings and the non-stop insanity emanating out of Washington, you will be forgiven if you haven't been keeping up with the constitutional crisis unfolding in Israel.  Most of us would agree that we have enough on our plates, especially during Thanksgiving. 

The events in Israel might seem far away and trivial. However, they could well be a portent of what's to come in the US if Trump loses the 2020 election.  

Journalist Chemi Shalev, writing for Haaretz, observes that Israel is currently in a state of chaos with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holding his own country hostage in his " unrelenting effort to avoid criminal prosecution"  after being charged with fraud and breach of trust. 

The result? Israel is facing its third election in a year, with a leader under a cloud of suspicion who refuses to leave.
Make no mistake: Netanyahu’s usurpation of legitimate authority is already well underway. He short-circuited established norms after failing to form a government following the April elections by forcing a newly-elected Knesset to disperse itself rather than hand over his presidential mandate to Benny Gantz, as required by law. He is now on the verge of repeating the very same trick, despite his second straight electoral flop, and, more importantly, despite being indicted for corruption by Attorney General Avihai Mendelblit.
Everybody who has ever glanced at politics in Israel knows it is a rough-and-tumble business. For example, in 2011, Moshe Katsav, the 8th president, was sentenced to seven years in prison for two counts of rapeobstruction of justice, and other charges. Ehud Olmert – Prime minister from 2006 to 2009- was charged with breach of trust in July 2012, and of bribery in March 2015. He served 18 months of a six-year-prison term for his crimes. Suffice to say, Israelis are not squeamish about putting their leaders behind bars.

Even so, Netanyahu's current situation is unprecedented.
There are few democratic countries in which a prime minister who has been charged by his own police, state prosecutors and attorney general with bribery, fraud and breach of trust could remain at his job for more than 24 hours.
As Shalev notes:
By the same token, there are few Israelis who could have imagined that a prime minister confronted with such a thoroughly investigated, extensively-documented and lengthily-deliberated criminal charge sheet would not only cling to power, but use all the powers invested in his august position in order to elude the long arm of the law.
After a three-year investigation, Netanyahu was indicted in late November in a series of corruption cases. Although public officials are required to resign if charged with a crime under Israeli law, that law does not apply to the prime minister. This loophole has been just wide enough for Netanyahu to squeeze through.
In his defense, Netanyahu has claimed that the indictment is part of a coup attempt to oust him from office. The charges, he said, were simply “false accusations” from a systematically “tainted investigation.”

In fact, the solution to the problem is a no-brainer.
All it requires is for Netanyahu to vacate his office and remove himself from politics in order to stand trial and, if one believes him, to prove his innocence. Netanyahu’s exit would free Israel from his omnipresent domination, allow it to return to what passes here for normalcy, and pave the way for Israel to return to the bitter, divisive but nonetheless functioning democracy it used to be.
This indictment comes hot on the heels of the political disarray that Netanyahu was already facing. For the first time in Israel's history, both the political parties have failed to form a majority leaving an inconclusive election result.

Apparently, short of having the Israeli leader physically removed by police and taken to his court hearing, Netanyahu seems unwilling to budge. Public opinion probably won't have much of an effect on his decision-making.
According to a survey published Friday- after the indictments were announced, 56% of Israelis want Netanyahu to resign.
For his part, he has apparently ruled out vacating his position and has instead come out swinging, telling reporters:
“Police and investigators are not above the law. The time has come to investigate the investigators.”
Sound familiar?
For Americans who have been paying close attention, it is indeed hard not to see the ominous similarities. The question boils down to: what happens if - like Netanyahu- president Trump loses the election, and then refuses to leave office? And it's that stomach-turning, sphincter-tightening scenario we have all been dreading ever since Trump took office. 

If you think this is a far-fetched scenario, ask an Israeli citizen if they thought it was a possibility only a year ago.

Trump has shown every indication that he believes himself to be above the law and therefore not obliged to follow the legal and constitutional process. 
Even as impeachment articles are being drawn up, Trump's so-called defense has- so far- been to deny and ignore the allegations against him and to reject the legitimacy of the impeachment process. And like Netanyahu, he has already dismissed the charges as nothing more than a Democrat-led coup against his administration.

In some ways, the current situation in Israel could be a dress rehearsal for what we might be facing after the 2020 election. If so, better buckle your seatbelts.