No turning-points in Trump and Netanyahu cases
A whole range of media and opposition politicians were having a field day in Washington and Jerusalem over what both depicted as the imminent downfall of two targeted leaders, Donald Trump and Binyamin Netanyahu. The two cases have nothing in common except for their synchrony and the fury of the extra-judicial campaigns waged against them.
In Washington the celebration was sparked Thursday, Aug. 3 by Special Council Robert Mueller’s convening of a criminal grand jury in pursuance of his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election. In Jerusalem, the prime minister’s former chief of staff Ari Haro’s consent to turn state’s evidence in the long-drawn out alleged corruption probes against Binyamin Netanyahu was hailed as a “political earthquake.”
In both cases, the celebrations were premature.
Mueller will be able to subpoena witnesses to testify under oath, and is expected to summon Donald Trump JR to answer questions on his meeting with a Russian lawyer, who promised damaging information about Hillary Clinton, as well as president’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner. But this does not mean that the Mueller investigation is about to wind up any time soon. Just the opposite: grand juries take their time. They may go on typically for a year or eighteen months – or even for years. And they don’t necessarily vote to indict subjects of an investigation.
So Mueller’s step poses no immediate danger to Donald Trump’s presidency.
The media-fueled campaign for toppling Netanyahu is going into its second year, with headline chasing headline claiming one alleged scandal after another. As soon as one goes up in smoke, another takes its place.
Although a whole range of witnesses have faced police questioning in search of evidence against the prime minister – they include some of the prime minister’s friends, Arnon Milchen and Sheldon Adelson, in the case of “inappropriate gifts” – no indictment has yet transpired.
On Friday, Aug. 4, the agreement signed with his former chief of staff, Ari Haro was greeted as the last nail in the prime minister’s coffin – and not for the first time.
A court-ruled gag order covered the details of the deal. In essence, Haro was promised that in return for providing evidence against his former boss, the charges against him of promoting his private business interests while in public office will be dropped and reduced to fraud and breach of trust. Instead of jail, he would face six months of community serve and pay a fine of NIS700,000 (roughly $250,000).
Binyamin Netanyahu has been judged and convicted of bribery and corruption by Israel’s mainstream media in at least four cases, even though long police investigations have so far failed to turn up the evidence for any indictment. Haro’s testimony may, or may not. provide such evidence. But it is not unknown for the prosecution in Israel and other places to reject plea bargains.
But the headlines are not waiting, any more than they waited for proof before alleging that the national security authorities were riddled with corruption. They named names before the prosecution had a chance to bring any indictments in the alleged case of the German submarines. Day after day, the main culprit Micky Ganor was reported as having admitted to paying bribes to top figures, including the former commander of the Navy, Eliezer Merom, and implicating David Shomron, a lawyer who happens to be related to Netanyahu. The relationship was stressed in story after story.
So far, however, this egregious criminal scandal has died down. Ganor finally confessed to nothing more than tax offenses.
This did not stop Avi Gabay, the newly elected leader of the opposition Labor party, declaring that the people won’t stand for a prime minister whose "cousin is implicated in the illicit submarine deal." Neither is an anti-Netanyahu group deterred from demonstrating week after week outside the home of the state attorney, Avihai Mandelblitt, to protest his and the prosecutor general’s failure to indict the prime minister.
But what can they do? In the final reckoning, even if all charges brought against Netanyahu turn out to be true, he like any other Israeli citizen is innocent until proven guilty.
The cases against Trump and Netanyahu may have inched forward by another step this week, but there will be many ups and downs before they are over. The last word will not be left to the media, but to the systems of justice in both the American and Israeli democracies.