Netanyahu’s Legal Woes <br>Look Like an Acute Case <br>Of the American Disease
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
The recommendation of Israeli police that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be indicted for graft looks to me like an acute case of a malady that is itself a threat to the Jewish state.
I call it the American disease. This is the itch to criminalize policy differences, an infection America came down with in the 1980s and has been suffering from, on and off, ever since.
Just ask President Trump. He is being pursued by such a gaggle of Democrats dressed up as special prosecutors that it’s a wonder he finds time to do the job the voters hired him to do.
It’s not my purpose to suggest that Israel’s attorney general, who will decide on whether to pursue the charges the police have recommended, drop the case. No one is above the law.
The issue that worries me is larger than Mr. Netanyahu.
“Nearly every recent Israeli prime minister has been under constant investigation,” one of Israel’s greatest legal sages, Eugene Kontorovich, tells me.
(Yitzhak Rabin resigned his first term for keeping a foreign bank account. Ehud Barak was investigated for illegal campaign cash, Ariel Sharon was investigated but not charged. Ehud Olmert went to jail.)
While no one ought to be above the law, neither ought elected leaders be put further below it, so to speak, than other citizens. That presents its own kind of injustice.
Which may be why two newly reported polls show that most Israelis want Netanyahu to resign — but his party would still come in first were a vote held now.
The circumstances in which Messrs. Netanyahu and Trump were elected are strikingly similar. They both tapped into sentiments that completely escaped the pollsters. That made the left furious.
No sooner was Mr. Trump president-elect than Democrats started beating the drums for a criminal investigation. They wanted him to be charged on allegations the voters weighed on Election Day.
That’s partly, but not completely, true in the case of Netanyahu, whose enemies have long been grousing about his rich friends.
Let Israel study what happened to, say, Senator Menendez of New Jersey. As he was leading the fight against President Obama’s appeasement of Iran, the feds indicted him for taking gifts from a pal.
It is true that Mr. Menendez’s reputation stank long before the Iran nuclear deal. Voters gave him a second term, though, partly for his willingness to stand up for Israel.
When the charges were put to trial, the jury hung — reportedly 10 to 2 in favor of acquittal. Just last month the government finally announced it won’t attempt to try him again.
It did that because our Supreme Court has wised up to the American disease. The high court has been making clear that in these graft cases, the government really has to prove an actual quid pro quo.
That was the unanimous opinion of the justices in the case involving the Republican ex-governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell. He had been convicted to taking bribery for gifts received while he was in office.
Only later did the Supreme Court conclude that Mr. McDonnell was not guilty. The prosecution failed to show that there was a clear quid pro quo for the gifts Mr. McDonnell had taken.
Israel has its own set of laws, of course, and doesn’t even have a constitution (one could quip that it answers to a higher authority). That doesn’t mean it can’t learn from the American experience.
That may be why Mr. Netanyahu declared Tuesday that he intends to stand his ground. What happened this week, after all, was not an indictment but a recommendation that one be handed up.
This puts the decision in the hands of Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit. The New York Times, naturally, rushed out a story about how it was Mr. Netanyahu who promoted General Mandelblit.
Just like the Democrats complained about Attorney General Sessions. He folded like a cheap suit, recusing himself on Russia and leaving a deputy to appoint a special prosecutor.
What our experience teaches is the importance of defining graft in a serious, explicit way. Gifts from rich friends who may or may not also get constituent services aren’t enough, even if such gifts are tacky.
Putting politicians under constant investigation — a symptom of the American disease — is never more dangerous than when war clouds are scudding. One can bet that Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un and the ayatollahs in Tehran are watching.
From the New York Post.