in Haaretz on April 4, 2021.
Indicted prime minister?
What's the problem?
It is not clear how and why the legal loophole was created, the one
allowing Israeli prime ministers to continue in their posts, even if criminal
indictments have been filed against them. As if this loophole were not enough,
now – when there are those who want to close it with legislation today, so that
it will apply after the next election – there are others who argue that such a
law would be perceived as retroactive or personal and should not be passed.
That logic is certainly easy to follow.
After all, who could even imagine such an outlandish scenario in which a
criminally-accused prime minister would dare refuse to sign a declaration
against conflicts of interest as mandated by the nation’s attorney general?
Couldn’t happen in Israel. That a prime minister might bring his cabinet
ministers to stand by him in the courtroom entrance on the first day of his
trial while he attacks the very institutions over which he himself is in
charge? Never a possibility, even in our wildest dreams.
Another minor issue – no more than a figment of our collective
imagination: blocking the passage of a budget, as required by law, during the
year of the worst health and social crises in the country’s history, just to
remain in office and avoid going to trial on corruption charges. That may seem
a compelling story-line for movies about banana republics. But this is Israel, with a democracy so
strong that it can forego active, ongoing efforts to defend it.
Finally, why shouldn’t Israeli democracy allow the prime minister to
personally decide who will be directly in charge of appointing those who will
head the country’s law enforcement and legal systems – those who determine
against whom legal proceedings might be opened and closed. After all, there is
no doubt that we can count on the integrity of a prime minister accused of
Of course, these are completely hypothetical cases that are unimaginable
in a democracy like Israel’s. We can certainly trust that prime ministers
accused of crimes will always put the good of the country above their own
interests – a possibility that does not exist with regard to cabinet ministers
and directors-general who are legally prohibited from being appointed when
there are criminal indictments against them.
But suppose such such an imaginary scenario would nonetheless have
arisen. Would we not have had to put an
end to it before it put an end to Israeli democracy? Shouldn’t there be a limit to the legalistic
hairsplitting and righteous nitpicking when it’s so clearly evident with whom
the State of Israel is dealing, and considering what is at stake? A law
prohibiting a criminal defendant from becoming prime minister is not only
justified – it should have been passed years ago.
And if the overdue passage of such a law in the Knesset also removes the
stick from the wheels of the endless election cycles, when a person facing
serious criminal indictments is so obviously willing to sacrifice an entire
country to further his personal interests – so much the better.