“I have given my life for our state,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in his nationally televised response to three criminal indictments being issued against him Nov. 22. “I have fought for it, been wounded for it, and am fighting for it in recent years both in international arenas and here in order to turn us into a world power,” the accused testified in his defense, as if a character witness in the sentencing phase of his own trial. Netanyahu further stated that not only should he not relinquish his position, but that he would lead the state “responsibly, with devotion, while ensuring the security and future of us all.”
Netanyahu’s place in history is already guaranteed as the first incumbent prime minister to be indicted on criminal charges. The accusations against him, however, pale in comparison to the long list of criminal strategic actions and missteps he has committed against the state, in the process abandoning the security and future of its citizens. Each count on the list of violations is egregious in itself. The synergy created by the combination of Netanyahu’s strategic “crimes” and their impact overshadows the actual criminal indictments against him
The first count in the State of Israel v. Benjamin Netanyahu is murder in the first degree for the death of the Zionist dream. The weapons used: a deliberately provocative demand that the Palestinian leadership recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people; advancement of the settlement enterprise; nationalistic incitement; quiet support for Hamas and its partners, who disrupt the daily lives of Israelis in the Gaza border communities, in order to weaken the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank; and instigating his main collaborator, President Donald Trump, to take unilateral steps to cripple the peace process.
The second count is the nullification of the nuclear deal signed between Iran and the world powers. The weapons used: the pro-Israel Jewish and evangelical lobbies in the United States. Netanyahu takes credit for Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the agreement and to tighten sanctions against Iran. Netanyahu’s campaign to undermine the deal was undertaken against the advice of senior Israeli security officials, who believed that the agreement was satisfactory considering the circumstances. Their warnings to the effect that the alternative could result in an acceleration of Iran’s nuclear program are proving prescient.
The third count is grievous harm to Israel's relations with Jordan. According to recent public statements by King Abdullah II, the relationship between his country and Israel is “at an all-time low.” The king expressed his hope that a new government would soon be formed in Israel that would enable the two countries to resolve the problems in the relationship. “Part of it is internal politics,” the monarch said. “I understand that, but not at the expense of something that my father and the late Prime Minister [Yitzhak] Rabin fought so hard to achieve.” The ill winds blowing between Jerusalem and Amman have led to Abdullah refusing to extend the land lease agreement on two border enclaves (Tzofar and Naharayim) in the 1994 peace treaty, damaging the livelihoods of the Israeli farmers who have cultivated those lands for decades. The relationship has also been repeatedly harmed by provocative declarations by Netanyahu, such as his pledge to annex the Jordan Valley and insensitivity to Jordan’s dutiful connection to the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem’s Old City.
The fourth count is contamination of Israel’s moral and democratic image on the world stage. The abuse of Palestinian human rights in the occupied territories and attempts to erase the Green Line have eroded Israel’s relationship with the European Union and its key member states. The Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice ruled on Nov. 12 that all 28 EU member states are obliged to label products manufactured on the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights to identify their origin as an Israeli settlement. The court determined that the move was needed to avoid misleading consumers and to ensure that they know that the State of Israel is an occupying power in the lands where the products are made, not the legitimate sovereign.
Israel has indeed become a “world power” as Netanyahu boasted, the key word being “power.” Its power boost is down to relations with controversial leaders, such as Trump, a president in the midst of impeachment proceedings against him; Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban; Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro; Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte; and Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. Relations with them have been bought with mutual visits and public handshakes while turning a blind eye to expressions of anti-Semitism and conducting ethically questionable arms deals.
The fifth count is the missed opportunity to promote a strategic alliance with the Sunni Arab states and to isolate Iran and its proxies. Goodwill gestures by several Gulf States — especially Saudi Arabia, including granting permission for Air India overflights through Saudi air space for its Tel Aviv-New Delhi route — served mainly to oil Netanyahu’s public relations machine. His claim that ties with the Arab states could be developed along with the deepening of Israel’s occupation was at best cheap propaganda and at worst criminal policy.
The sixth count is delivering a fatal blow to relations with the Democratic Party and mainstream US Jewish communities. Netanyahu’s total identification with the Republican Party turned strategically important, bipartisan US support of Israel into a controversial partisan issue. Netanyahu’s 2015 speech to Congress inciting lawmakers against President Barack Obama will be remembered as gross Israeli intervention in US domestic politics. The serial violation of promises to amend the distorted status of progressive and Reform American Jews in Israel — such as objecting to Reform conversions and sidelining the compromise on a mixed prayer space at the Western Wall — alienates their younger generation.
The final count is Netanyahu’s outrageous public reaction to the criminal indictments against him. In his desperate attempt to extricate himself from the defendant’s box, Netanyahu has put the media, the rule of law, the courts and the rest of the legal system on trial. He made a global mockery of Israel’s abiding description as “the only democracy in the Middle East.”
The long-term damage Netanyahu has inflicted on Israel’s defense and diplomacy is no less severe, if not more so, than his multiple-casualty attack on Israeli society and the rule of law. Each additional day that the accused continues to hold the title of Israeli prime minister is a dark day for the vision of Israel as an ethical, peace-loving, democratic and Jewish state.