Netanyahu’s Plea Bargain Hangs on Disgrace

An unprecedented outpouring of support shows that Bibi is far from done as “leader of the Right”

Benjamin Netanyahu.
Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90

Michael Kleiner, currently serving as president of the supreme court of the Likud party, was interviewed on Jan. 17 by Shimon Riklin from the right-wing Channel 14. From what he said and didn’t say, one can understand that Benjamin Netanyahu’s days in the party are numbered, and it may be the former PM’s reported plea bargain that ends his career.

There is no doubt now that Netanyahu is opting for a plea bargain in the corruption charges against him. The hold-up in negotiations between Netanyahu and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is the issue of “disgrace.”

In legal terms, disgrace (or “moral turpitude” in such cases) means more than a breach of law. It is the breach of public trust by way of breaking the values and moral standards of the public. Disgrace, therefore, is an offense that results in disqualification from holding public office. In Israel, a politician stained by moral turpitude is barred from public office for seven years. In addition, Israel does not allow dedicating street names, institutions, etc. after public officials guilty of such offenses. And yet, this type of disgrace is not clearly defined, which means it is entirely up to the judges to decide whether or not a criminal act falls under moral turpitude.

“You will never march alone!” Right-wing Israelis set up a campaign to cover Netanyahu’s legal expenses.

A day earlier, a fundraising campaign to cover Netanyahu’s legal expenses was launched, and within hours over half-a-million dollars were raised. By now, this “you will never march alone” campaign has raised over a million dollars. The goal is five million shekels ($1.6 million). Clearly, this campaign is not about money. It is an unprecedented show of public support. According to Berale Crombie, who together with Yinon Magal initiated this unusual campaign, the money is for “the leader of the Right, so that he will not have to bear disgrace, and thus will be able to continue leading the country!”

Disgracing a political leader in this way is the modern equivalent of the ancient practice of statue mutilation, which was the means of tarnishing and erasing the memory of a previous monarch.

There is no denying that both the Left and the Right perceive Netanyahu’s trial as politically-motivated. This means that he stands trial as a public figure representing the Right. But Netanyahu is also a private human being. He is the only one to pay the price. And as a private individual he doesn’t want to end up in jail. The trial is far from over. But a 2019 remark by the late-law professor and Israel Prize laureate Ruth Gabison ring loudly: “Netanyahu has no chance of receiving a fair trial,” she said at the time. The leader of the Right has every reason to believe that, being politically-motivated, the verdict has already been decided.

Netanyahu’s dilemma that forces him to choose between the public and the private is intensified by his belief that the charges against him, particularly Case 4000 that charges him with bribery, were concocted by the Attorney General’s Office in order to get rid of him. The bribery charge, to be reminded, is a precedent-setting offense. What this means is that to incriminate Netanyahu, the Attorney General had to invent a new offense. Now, I bet you that of all the people in the world, you couldn’t find one who would be willing to be locked up in prison for things he is absolutely convinced he didn’t do.

My hope is that Netanyahu’s decision will be based on how, in the final analysis, he defines his trial, whether it is a political spectacle or a private matter. If he opts for the first, and it looks like he will, then a plea bargain that includes moral turpitude should not be an option because his disgrace will be the Right’s disgrace.

If, on the other hand, he’s able to negotiate a deal without moral turpitude, then under the circumstances he should take it, even knowing he’ll have the bear the charge of the amorphic legal offense of “fraud and breach of trust.”

If Netanyahu is able to close a deal that does not include moral turpitude and public disgrace, it means that his supporters, who believe he is innocent, will be able to vote for him in the next election. Unpleasant and humiliating as it may be, a plea bargain without disgrace is a win-win for both Netanyahu and the Right. But, his supporters are expecting him to prove his innocence if the plea bargain does include disgrace, even if it means that in the end Netanyahu lands in prison.

Popular Channel 14 News anchor Shimon Riklin, one of Netanyahu’s avid supporters, said this in a tweet from last week:

“As a public representative, as a reformer, a leader must hold on to his truth to the end. And if necessary, be jailed. Yes jailed. It is unpleasant to be jailed in advanced age. Are we committed to comfort and luxury, or to an idea? … in the past leaders who fought for Israel’s freedom have died for freedom. Our mental courage will determine our future.”

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