Can a democracy survive if a nation's voting public no longer trusts the police and its legal arm, the nation's Prosecutor's Office? As you'll see in a moment, recent events in Israel suggest just such a question.
This question has arisen because of a series of criminal investigations against Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu (here). Rumor has it that an indictment now appears practically guaranteed (here), possibly as early as November 26, 2019.
Netanyahu has been fighting to save his career. For some, the fact that Netanyahu fights against the criminal accusations against him doesn't prove that Israel has a vibrant democracy--you know, that Israel allows the man to claim he's innocent until proven guilty. Instead, those against Netanyahu take a different approach. They say that his fighting for his career threatens the integrity of Israel's democracy (here).
These anti-Netanyahu 'experts' see their accusations against Netanyahu as pure proof of guilt, nothing less. Essentially, they ask, how can a democracy remain a democracy when those found to be criminally guilty (in the media) remain in power?
For others, Netanyahu is innocent until proven guilty. That, they say, is his democratic right. The counter-argument that 'we must defend our democracy by forcing the man to resign now' only suggests that it is they who stand against Netanyahu in this matter who threaten Israel's democracy.
The police and its legal arm, the national Prosecutor's Office (the Attorney General's Office) contribute to the fog that has surrounded this 'good for democracy or bad' discussion. They've been working overtime to criminalize what some call normal interactions between politicians and publishers (here). If Netanyahu goes to trial, the police and the Prosecutor's Office will cast a chill on publisher-politician behavior--and give police effective control over the press (see here).
The argument here is that he who controls the freedom of speech (and press) more easily controls whether or not a nation retains its democracy.
Israel's voters don't know how to respond to such a discussion. They can barely understand Israel's election system, let alone a discussion about what threatens the democracy that underpins those elections.
This is a complicated case with enormous consequences. It isn't just about Netanyahu. It's about how a democracy is supposed to work, something Israel's Prosecutor's Office might not understand (here).
Voters have reacted in two ways to all of this. First, these criminal allegations against Netanyahu have meant that Israeli voters have become unable to decide who they want to see as a national leader. The key election question seems to have been, how can I vote for someone the media calls a criminal?
The police-media drumbeat against Netanyahu has taken its toll. In reality, voters have turned against Netanyahu. But barely--only enough to give his opponent a meager one-seat advantage in this last election. That's not a resounding rejection of the current leader (Netanyahu). But it's enough to paralyze Israel's election system.
In fact, in the two election-attempts we'd had during 2019, voters haven't chosen anything at all: neither Netanyahu nor anyone else in Israel has received enough votes to form a national coalition government. (Read here for a fairly even-handed look at how Israel's election system works, one that was prepared in April 2019 before the first of two elections in 2019; for an explanation of why that first election failed--and why now the second election is so close to failing (Benny Gantz has until November 20th to form a government; if he cannot, there could well be a third election)--read what I would call a highly-charged-but-possibly-accurate view of Israel's voting system, by Daniel Greenfield (here).
This question of Israel's democracy being threatened started because of what some see as police misbehavior during its investigations against Netanyahu. Police have been investigating Netanyahu for almost three years for crimes against the State (or, the 'people'). Netanyahu now faces serious criminal charges for bribery, corruption and what Israel calls, 'breach of trust' (here).
These investigations appear, so far as many voters are concerned, to render Netanyahu a criminal (above). At least, that's how some in the media present this unfolding drama. While there is no law that says a Prime Minister indicted for crimes must step down until he's been cleared of all charges, many in Israel's media cry that Netanyahu is guilty-until-proven-innocent--and must therefore step down immediately. They claim he is 'clearly' unfit to hold National Office, something which, of course, has not yet been proven.
Given the pressure the police and their media allies have put on the Prosecutor's Office through almost three years of damning leaks against Netanyahu, the Attorney General may be trapped. He may feel that this 'ongoing public trial' the police and media have engaged in against the PM needs to be cleared up. Facing three years' worth of damning anti-Netanyahu media reports, the Attorney General may feel the only way to end the anti-Netanyahu clamoring is with a trial.
The stakes for Netanyahu are high. If found guilty, he (Israel's longest-serving Prime Minister) could land in prison.
The second part of Israel's voter response to these accusations has just shown up in a new poll. Here, just 22% of Israelis maintain a strong faith in Israel's police, and only 28% percent feel the same about Israel's Prosecutor's Office (here).
This isn't good news for the police, the Prosecutor's Office--or for Israel. On average, some 75% of Israeli voters appear not to trust the police or the Prosecutor's Office. Please note that these numbers may not be just a one-off experience for Israel. They're part of a disturbing trend.
Back in early March, 2019, some 42 percent of respondents to another poll agreed that, when it came to the accusations against Netanyahu, the public perception was that the nation's Attorney General had caved in to Israel's political Left to hound, harass and seek the arrest of the Prime Minister (here). That's how much voters trusted the Prosecutor's Office (and the police doing the investigations) eight months ago. Now, public trust in these two institutions appears to have cratered, as the latest poll (above) suggests: only 22% of respondents trust the police?
This is dangerous. If a nation's voters come to believe the police are not honest, and if at the same time that public also believes the Prosecutor's Office, which prosecutes those whom the police want prosecuted, also is untrustworthy, then that democracy will be seriously threatened.
That's how much power the police have. That's how powerful a nation's Prosecutor's Office is. These two institutions are supposed to protect a democracy's Rule of Law. If they 'go bad', they can destroy a democracy.
Have they now gone bad?
Read Caroline Glick (here). Unelected officials in the Prosecutor's Office will very soon judge Netanyahu. They're going to decide if or how politician-publisher interactions should be criminalized. Apparently, at least some in that office may also have an 'anti-capitalism' (read, 'anti-Western-style democracy') bias as well (Glick, ibid). That's an existential threat to Israel's democracy because Israel has a Liberal, Western-style democracy (here) where the freedoms of speech and press are fundamental to Israel's political structure (ibid); a Netanyahu indictment could redefine what is 'freedom' for the press (see the Glick essay just cited).
When the police and Prosecutor's Office criminalize politician-publisher interactions, how do you think publishers will start behaving? Will they risk jail by interacting with a politician? Will they risk bankruptcy to defend themselves against a long string of leaks against them?
Indicting Netanyahu means the Prosecutor's Office will not defend two of a Liberal Democracy's founding Principles (to protect freedoms of speech and the press). They will be criminalizing those Principles.
That doesn't protect anybody's democracy. It hurts it. It undercuts it. Instead of protecting democracy in Israel by indicting Netanyahu, Israel's Prosecutors will be condemning it. That will elevate the power of the police--and that, in turn, will open the door to a state controlled by the police.
This is a real problem for Israel. The nation's democracy is being threatened by the very people supposed to protect it.
The Left in Israel, including much of the media, may finally get what it's wanted for more than a decade--to get rid of Netanyahu. Be careful what you wish for, Israel. You may get it.