Israel’s Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit has just announced his intention to indict Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu on three charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. His intention to indict kicks off a process which could last for years in the courts. Mandelblit’s announcement is not a declaration that Netanyahu is guilty, though Bibi’s enemies at the Israeli newspaper Yediot Achronot (‘Latest News’) crowed with satisfaction in screaming headlines with extra-large fonts declaring ‘Ne’esham’ (which can mean ‘accused,’ ‘charged’ or ‘defendant’ in Hebrew).
According to Israeli law, anyone accused in a court of law is innocent until proven guilty. However, the overwhelming majority of Israel’s media (which has attacked and castigated Bibi and his family for over two decades) assumes as a given that Netanyahu is already guilty. For them, any trial would only be window dressing on a foregone conclusion.
Mandelblit’s announcement of intent to indict is only a first step in a drawn-out legal procedure.No actual indictment can happen until after the April 9, 2019 Israeli elections. After the elections (according to Israeli law) Bibi’s lawyers will ask for and receive a hearing to respond to the Attorney General’s charges, where they will present Netanyahu’s perspectives and counter-challenges. After that point (which could take up to one full year), the Attorney General may decide drop charges, modify them or formally file an indictment.
In light of all this,
- what can be said and understood here from both an on-site and a biblical perspective?
- what are the ramifications of this announcement of an intention to indict?
- how can we pray about this situation?
Where’s the beef?
In 1984 the hamburger chain Wendy’s presented a TV ad using a crotchety older woman who constantly asked, “Where’s the beef?” During the Democratic Party’s presidential candidates’ debate of that year, Walter Mondale drilled Gary Hart with the same question. The point behind both soundbites was to question whether or not an event or a person’s agenda has substance.
World-respected and prominent lawyer Alan Dershowitz (Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law, Emeritus at Harvard University) has stated recently that there is no legal substance to the charges against Netanyahu. He “strongly believes that the appropriate criteria for criminal prosecution have not been met” in these cases, and that the “clear and unambiguous (evidence of) financial corruption” needed for solid conviction here is “well beyond what is alleged in the current cases.”
His arguments and those of other legal minds can be found in the above articles. If Dershowitz’s statement is valid (that there is not sufficient legal evidence to attempt a conviction), why then is the Attorney General moving forward with this very damaging gambit only 40 days before Israel’s next general elections?
Clash of the titans
Power politics is a way of life in most countries of the world, and certainly in Israel. Powerful businessmen attempt to influence political decisions in ways which will be advantageous to their own economic interests. In Israel each major political party is financed and influenced by specific tycoons (www.haaretz.com/israel-news/business/which-tycoon-to-vote-for-in-the-election-1.6955379):
Property developer Alfred Akirov supports Benny Gantz and his Israel Resilience Party (Hosen L’Yisrael, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israel_Resilience_Party). In the past he was a main contributor to Prime Ministers Shimon Peres and Ehud Olmert.
Histadrut Chairman Avi Nissenkorn and his government monopolies (Israel Electric Corporation, the Ports Authority, the Israel Airports Authority and other powerful unions, all organized under the Histadrut Labor Federation) also support Gantz.
Koby Maimon (natural gas and real estate magnate) backs Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and his Kulanu party.
Business magnate Arnon Mozes backs Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid who worked for years as a journalist at Mozes’ Yediot Achronot. Mozes controls Israel’s biggest media conglomerate Yediot Tikshoret; Channel 2, one of the top TV channels; HOT Cable TV company (second largest); Vesti, Israel’s largest Russian-language daily; La’Isha, the Israeli women’s magazine; Rosh 1, a teenager weekly; the Internet portal Ynet; the men’s magazine Blazer; print houses; voice data providers, music distributors, information services and a plethora of real estate properties.
The Labor Party is headed by Avi Gabbay and seconded by Knesset Member Itzik Shmueli. Nochi Dankner the former Chairman of Israel’s biggest conglomerate IDB has contributed handsomely to Shmueli, as has Arnon Mozes.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud Party are heavily supported by casino baronSheldon Adelson, owner of the freely distributed newspaper Israel Hayom (in active competition with Mozes’ Yediot Achronot).
Adelson is also a major supporter of Naftali Bennett and his Hayamin Hehadash (New Right) party (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Right_(Israel)).
Most of Israel’s political maneuverings, machinations and headlines reflect the jockeying between these ‘Power Rangers.’ Charges and counter-charges against top politicians continue to be the daily bread of Israeli media for the past 20 years, with much of the bile directed against Netanyahu and the Likud Party – who nevertheless seem to continually win in election after election.
- Two of the three main charges against Bibi concern clashes between him and some of the above-mentioned power magnates. The technicalities of the legal charges are to a large extent wallpaper covering other deeper holes and struggles.
Dershowitz notes in the above-mentioned article that “these media companies will seek to influence the political discourse that affects their bottom line, as they simultaneously report on it.”
The Hypocritical oath
Professor Avi Bell (Professor of Law at Bar Ilan University and the University of San Diego, Senior Fellow at the Kohelet Policy Forum, and Visiting Fellow at Harvard Law School’s Project on the Foundations of Private Law) comments concerning one of the bribery charges – Hollywood magnate Arnon Milchan’s personal gifts of champagne and cigars to Bibi and his wife Sara.
Bell points out that Milchan is on public record as having expressed similar friendship and largesse to Prime Ministers Ehud Olmert, Ariel Sharon and Shimon Peres, as well as to Deputy Prime Ministers Tzipi Livni and Silvan Shalom, Defense and Foreign Affairs Minister Avigdor Liberman, Finance Minister Yair Lapid etc. Yet no charges on these matters have been or will be filed against Lapid, Livni, Olmert, Peres, Shalom or Sharon.
The laser-like focus on bringing down Netanyahu by any means necessary has been the agenda of much of the media (and the power brokers behind them) for decades.
Years ago, just before Ariel Sharon’s pullout from Gaza (the ‘disengagement’ of 2005), one top Israeli commentator Amnon Abramovich called on his colleagues to go easy on Sharon over possible involvement in a questionable Greek land deal – to treat Sharon “like an etrog” – i.e., to treat him ‘with kid gloves’ – so long as Sharon withdrew unilaterally from the Gaza Strip. The left-leaning media in Israel has treated Bibi in the exactly opposite way.
Judicial overreach and black-robe fever
Dershowitz has noted, “No one should be charged with a crime unless he has willfully crossed a bright line and plainly violated a serious criminal statute. To bring down a duly elected prime minister on the basis of an expansive and unprecedented application of a broad and expandable criminal statute endangers democracy.”
Bell notes that Mandelblit has moved beyond issues of evidence to the probing of the motives of the accused: “The danger in the novel legal theories introduced by Mandelblit is stark. The criminal charges against the prime minister lack legal substance, and they threaten both the rule of law in Israel and the health of its democracy… Mandelblit’s announcement heralds a crisis for Israel’s democracy and the public image of its legal system.”
The challenges in this case bear some resemblance to U.S. constitutional issues today. Should the U.S. Constitution be interpreted in light of what the Constitutional Fathers intended the Constitution to mean, or should the Constitution be re-interpreted anew in every generation, even if that does violence to the Constitution’s original meaning and authorial intent.
A lawyer friend of mine once explained a legal concept known as ‘black robe fever’ – sometimes a judge, after putting on his black robe, begins to think that he is God, “able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
The present charges against Netanyahu shy away from solid and actionable evidence which is necessary for the case to stand up in court. They focus instead on psychological motives. This is seen by a significant amount of Israelis as a politically motivated partisan vendetta. The Attorney General’s actions have the potential to alienate many Israelis’ trust in their own legal system. They also throw a significant curve at the electorate and at the ruling Likud party immediately preceding a significant Israeli election. Mandelblit’s decision has oversized power to shape the election’s result. His move has the potential to move Israel’s judiciary away from its traditionally understood role into greater authority over the legislative and executive branches of government, simultaneously weakening the democratic power of the state.
Character and kings
Regardless of the outcome of the elections, the judicial hearing and any subsequent legal developments, the Scriptures give us some meat to chew on about such matters.
Solomon warns us all in Proverbs: “When you sit down to dine with a ruler, consider carefully what is before you and put a knife to your throat if you are a man of great appetite. Do not desire his delicacies, for it is deceptive food” (Proverbs 23:1-3). All of us need to rein in our appetites, especially around people who would manipulate us for their own gain. Wisdom exhorts us to be extra careful in the face of such temptations.
Proverbs also cautions us about the cost of accepting generous gifts when there might be strings attached: “Do not eat the bread of a selfish man or desire his delicacies. For as he thinks within himself, so he is. He says to you, ‘Eat and drink!’ but his heart is not with you. You will vomit up the morsel you have eaten, and waste your compliments” (Proverbs 23:6-8). Kings and rulers would do well to follow the advice of the wisest king who ever lived.
How should we then pray?
- Pray for Prime Minister Netanyahu to receive God’s heart and perspective about his present situation and his spiritual state
- Pray for God’s justice, righteousness and balance to be done regarding these issues
- Pray for the foiling of wicked machinations on the part of ungodly businessmen
- Pray for God to establish leadership in Israel after His own heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Jeremiah 3:15)
This article originally appeared on David’s Tent, March 2, 2019, and reposted with permission.