The country needs to come first, not Netanyahu – analysis

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu  (photo credit: REUTERS)

According to the Jerusalem Post, "There is no more hiding or sugarcoating what Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to do. He genuinely wants to divide the country, weaken the legal system and cause damage to Israel that could last for generations. Rule of law? Democracy? National unity? It all means nothing."
Netanyahu's trial on Case 1000, Case 2000 and Case 4000 is not being brought against Netanyahu, he proclaimed on Sunday: “What is on trial is an attempt to thwart the will of the people. They are trying to topple me and the entire right wing.”

It is an interesting argument. Does that mean Netanyahu shared with his right-wing followers the hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and bottles of champagne he allegedly received illegally? Did the activists who danced outside the Jerusalem District Court on Salah a-Din Street on Sunday each receive a Montecristo? Did these right-wing activists attend the meetings he held and recorded with Yediot Aharonot owner Noni Mozes? Were they the ones who were supposed to benefit from the positive publicity he allegedly received from Shaul Elovitch’s Walla News in exchange for regulatory benefits he allegedly gave to Bezeq?
Of course not. All of these allegations have a common denominator that reveals what the public has known about Netanyahu for years: This is a man who enjoys the good things in life and also has an obsession with media coverage. The criminality of these characteristics will now be determined by a panel of judges, not by the protesters or by his voters.
Many will talk about the sadness of Sunday’s hearing, which marked the first time in Israeli history that a sitting prime minister stood trial on corruption charges. This is true, but there are two other ways to view the day: one with pride, and one with grave concern over the danger that looms on the horizon.
Pride, because despite all the political tricks, all the attempts to undermine the courts, all the elections and all the coalition talks, Netanyahu is now standing trial. No one, Israel showed on Sunday, is above the law.
Let us not forget that when Netanyahu dispersed his government in December 2018, his goal was to win a large enough coalition in the April 2019 election to pass an immunity bill that would have prevented this day from ever happening. When he went to the second election in September, he also hoped it would end with a 61-seat majority on the Right. Everything was about political survival and staying out of Room 317, the Jerusalem courtroom where he declared on Sunday that he had read the indictment and understood the charges being brought against him.
Moreover, what happened on Sunday is dangerous because of what Netanyahu is trying to do. By turning his trial into a case of “us” against “them,” Netanyahu is trying to create a narrative that his trial is not about alleged personal corruption but is really about him being the leader of the Right. He is drawing a line in the sand between those who are for him and those who are against him.
He wants to divide the country. He needs to divide the country.
Rhetoric of this kind has the potential to undermine the foundations of any democracy, let alone one like Israel, which does not have a constitution and where the separation of powers and branches of government are tenuous on a good day.
Beginning with his days in the IDF, Netanyahu has dedicated his life in service of the State of Israel. On that there is little doubt. But there is something else. The circumstances and culpability that brought him to Sunday’s trial opening will eventually be determined by the court.
Netanyahu, though, will hopefully remember that Israel is more important than any single individual; that despite everything, the country still needs to come first. Hopefully.

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