June 22, 2020
WISE ON THE MIDDLE EAST
Each week Robert L. Wise, Ph.D., explores the Middle Eastern situation, ranging from Egypt through Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the surrounding area. Wise first traveled to Israel and the neighboring countries in 1968. Two of his sons taught in Jordan and Lebanon universities. Wise presents an objective view of the behind the scenes situation in these countries.
Netanyahu On Trial
The corruption trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is on the back burner, yet it continues to loom large in Israeli politics. It is still the subject of regular media leaks, driving a persistent din of confrontations between the prime minister and prominent journalists, and affecting Netanyahu’s political calculations at nearly every turn. It is also the subject of the most significant and popular conspiracy theory in Israeli public life, one pushed by the prime minister himself.
The theory goes something like this: Netanyahu committed no wrong but is being hounded by police investigators and prosecutors, including an attorney general and police commissioner he appointed, with a leftist media egging it all on with the single overriding goal of ousting him from power and bringing the left, or at least some weak-kneed right-winger who will do the left’s bidding, to power.
It’s a ham-fisted claim, and few Israelis who don’t identify with Netanyahu’s politics take it seriously. Too many distinct individuals and organizations must all fall in with the conspiracy to make it work. One might convincingly claim that a single prosecutor in a prominent case could become enamored with their own power. Or even that a string of investigators might be driven to coordinated unethical behavior by a problematic organizational culture in the police. Or, too, that leftist leanings in the judiciary might stack the deck against a right-wing prime minister.
True or not, such claims are at least plausible. Cops, prosecutors and judges are only human, after all.
But Netanyahu’s claim is larger. “Citizens of Israel,” he declared in a televised broadcast shortly before the opening of his corruption trial on May 24, “what is on trial today is an effort to stymie the will of the people — an attempt to bring down both me and the right-wing camp…. Elements in the police and the prosecution joined forces with the leftist media — I call them the ‘anyone but Bibi’ gang — to manufacture baseless and absurd cases against me. The goal is to bring down a strong prime minister from the right and thus keep the right out of power for many years. “
It’s in the details that the scale of this claim becomes clear. Netanyahu is arguing that former police commissioner Roni Alsheich, a religious, conservative former deputy head of the Shin Bet appointed to head the police by Netanyahu himself — and last month called a “criminal” in his own right by the prime minister — pushed police investigators to pursue the prime minister despite knowing there was no case. The police investigators all cooperated, with none leaking any misgivings to the press from that famously leak-prone organization.
State prosecutors then took up the cause, all, again, falling in line with the conspiracy; then-state attorney Shai Nitzan, known to favor a harsher line on corruption cases, including Netanyahu’s, then managed by some mysterious power to coerce Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, another religious conservative who once served as a top Netanyahu aide and was his choice for attorney general, to turn on his boss and pursue a prosecution of the prime minister he knows to be unfair.
Several judges, attorneys and state’s witnesses all played parts in the vast conspiracy — with everyone at every step knowing full well that it was all a lie meant to bring down an innocent man, but none ever breathing a word of it, even anonymously, to the media.
Netanyahu’s conspiracy theory encompasses too many unlikely conspirators and alleges a distinctly un-Israeli capacity for silence on the part of too many actors to be taken as a serious argument about the facts of the case.
So, the trial and the arguments continue. Stay tuned.
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