We can disagree about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conduct in regards to the Iranian nuclear program in general, and in regards to his Congress speech in particular. We can and should criticize certain decisions he makes.
It’s true that we’re all smart. It’s true that we all know better than him what is appropriate and what isn’t. Especially if we’re journalists (and that includes myself). Why it’s so easy to give advice. We’ll always find the senior security expert who knows even a bit more, and shares the exact same opinion as the current knowledgeable person.
One thing is clear: The hard decisions are eventually made by the prime minister. He is the one who bears the responsibility. He is the one who has to dedicate hours and days and weeks and months. He is the one who has to suffer before making a decision. It’s unclear why so many people yearn for such a difficult position. Why the burden of this weight would overpower most of mankind.
So regardless what we think about the prime minister, any prime minister, the Knesset would be wise to enact a law banning police investigations which bother the prime minister during his term. It seems that for two decades now, all of our prime ministers – not all at the same level – were under some kind of investigation.
The challenges faced by an Israeli prime minister are likely bigger than the challenges faced by all or most world leaders. In such a situation, we can give up on investigations against an incumbent prime minister. Nothing will happen if a criminal investigation is postponed until the end of the prime ministerial term – excluding cases that demand urgent action and will be defined by the law.
If France can afford such a law, which grants the president immunity during his term, and if the impeachment process in the United States is so complicated, making it clear that the head of state’s situation is different – Israel needs something similar too.
An investigation requires dedicating considerable time to lawyers, the police and the State Prosecutor’s Office. When I was an active lawyer, the law firm I worked in had senior clients from the public service. None of them were eventually indicted. But I do remember that for many weeks, sometimes months, they dedicated their entire time to clearing their name. They continued to receive a full salary from the state. They did not serve the state those days.
It’s unclear whether a prime minister does the same, but it’s clear that the headache of an investigation will neutralize his real headache – dealing with the state’s problems.
If I may say so, I expressed a similar opinion during the investigations against former prime minister Ehud Olmert. Today we know that he is a convicted criminal. But there is a fear, just a fear, that here and there, even if not intentionally, investigating prime ministers gives those involved a special aura. They may also have human weaknesses. At the time, those who opposed the exemption idea were the Likud members. Olmert’s public grilling gave them immense pleasure.
Naturally, such a proposal cannot include the incumbent prime minister. It can and should only apply to the next prime minister, whoever he or she may be. The attorney general’s decision to freeze the investigation against Netanyahu is a bad decision, because a partial and temporary exemption for a prime minister should be decided by the Knesset through legislation, not in an attorney general’s decision that leaves a bad taste.
We need this direction not as boon to a particular prime minister. Israel needs it as a boon for itself.
Reprinted with author’s permission from Ynet