Israel's Democracy Is up for Election | Opinion

Imagine if a former close associate of the U.S. Treasury secretary filed a complaint with the FBI alleging the secretary offered him a large sum of money to murder a police commissioner, but the FBI ignored complaints and instead refused to investigate the allegation?

This is precisely what just happened in Israel. On August 31, Yossi Kamisa, a former associate of Israeli Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, wrote on his Facebook page that in 2000, then-Minister of National Infrastructures Liberman offered him $100,000 to kill a police commissioner.

Kamisa wrote that he filed a police complaint detailing his allegations a month ago, but neither the police nor the state prosecution responded.

The media was largely silent about Kamisa's claims, but gave wide coverage to Liberman's denial of Kamisa's allegations, as well as Liberman's denial of any formal relationship with Kamisa either at the time or since. For its part, Israel's state prosecution denied that Kamisa submitted a complaint, mumbled about his credibility, and vaguely claimed that Kamisa's information came through a third party.

On September 2, Kamisa gave a primetime interview to one of Israel's top television reporters, wherein he expanded on his allegations. Kamisa claimed he first reached out to the police in 2000, immediately after Liberman made the alleged offer and scheduled a meeting with a senior police commissioner. Kamisa said Liberman waylaid him en route to the meeting, and after their roadside meeting, he opted not to go forward.

The relevant commissioner, Moshe Mizrahi, who served as head of police investigations at the time of the alleged events, verified Kamisa's story. Kamisa, Mizrahi said, was at the time a close associate of Liberman's. Kamisa's name was intercepted on police wiretaps of Liberman's phone. Mizrahi knew in real time that Liberman stopped Kamisa on Kamisa's way to his office, and was not surprised when Kamisa didn't show up for their meeting.

Three days after Kamisa's television interview, and a month after he filed a complaint with the police, then-Israeli Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara announced she would conduct an informal "check," rather than an investigation of his claims.

Liberman, for his part, has decided his best defense is offense—not against Kamisa, but against former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the nemesis of Israel's insular legal fraternity. (As the head of the Likud party, Netanyahu is also now the front runner to form the next Israeli government after the Knesset elections scheduled for November 1.) On September 4, Liberman insisted Kamisa is working for Netanyahu, whom Liberman attacked as the "scum of humanity."

Liberman added that he is the only thing blocking Netanyahu from returning to office.

While Kamisa's allegations are shocking, Liberman's decision to deflect the accusation by attacking Netanyahu is not. Liberman knows his audience. For more than two decades, and at a frequency that seems to increase from year to year, Israelis have been subjected to baldly political decisions by the attorney general and state prosecution. They prosecute politicians that pose a threat to their power, while simultaneously doling out "Get Out of Jail Free" cards to politicians that kiss their rings.

In recent years, seemingly credible and easily verifiable allegations of felonious behavior have been raised against Liberman, former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, current caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, and Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar, (who previously nominated Baharav-Miara for attorney general). Miara and her two predecessors set them all aside.

In contrast, after four years of highly politicized investigations that involved illegal leaks, torture of witnesses, and widespread illegal wiretaps, Miara's predecessor Avichai Mandelblit ultimately indicted Netanyahu for bribery and breach of trust. Mandelblit therefore instigated Netanyahu's ouster from office last year; his trial began a year ago.

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks
Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a protest against the Israeli government on April 6, 2022 in Jerusalem, Israel. Amir Levy/Getty Images

To indict Netanyahu for bribery, Mandelblit invented two new definitions of bribery. First, he claimed that when a politician receives positive coverage from a news outlet, the coverage is a bribe. But then, as it turned out, Netanyahu received horrible coverage from the outlet in question. So Mandelblit said that bribery is when a politician's requests from a news outlet receive "untoward attention." What exactly that means is left up to the state prosecution to decide.

Notably, even under Mandelblit's made-up definition of a bribe, Netanyahu's lawyers proved that he didn't receive one. In fact, his political rivals' requests from the same news outlet received far more attention and support than Netanyahu's did.

As for breach of trust, in what was supposed to be an open-and-shut case, Mandelblit claimed Netanyahu received too many presents from his friends while prime minister. But the star prosecution witness' accusations disintegrated under cross-examination. It turns out that Netanyahu gave as many goods as he got—and he got far fewer gifts from his friends than the prosecution asserted he did.

Both on their own merits and when compared to the criminal allegations raised against Liberman, Lapid, Bennett, Gantz, and Sa'ar in recent years, it is obvious that Netanyahu's indictment was a political act by a legal fraternity dead-set on getting rid of the man they view as an existential threat to their power. Mandelblit admitted as much when he left office last year; he bragged that he served as God's vessel when he ousted Netanyahu. "God saved us" from Netanyahu, who was "a threat to democracy," Mandelblit boasted at the time.

Aside from refusing to investigate Liberman for allegedly ordering the murder of a police commissioner, Miara also refused to investigate Sa'ar for a documented unlawful favor he performed for a political donor. She also refused to investigate Gantz for fraud for a no-bid contract his spyware firm, Fifth Dimension, received from the police based on what were allegedly false assertions of the program's effectiveness. Gantz is also not being investigated for claims that arose during the recent FBI probe of retired Marine General John Allen, who failed to register as an agent of Qatar. That probe indicated Fifth Dimension contracted Allen to sell its spyware to Qatar. Since Israel classifies Qatar as an enemy state, Israeli firms are barred from selling spyware technology to Qatar.

The government formed after Israel's elections on November 1 will be tasked with deciding whether to militarily block Iran from becoming a nuclear power. It will also be compelled to deal with Iran's Lebanese and Palestinian proxies, which are expected to go to war against Israel whether Iran goes nuclear or Israel takes military action to block Iran from doing so. The responsibility that will fall on the shoulders of the next Israeli government is therefore enormous.

But dealing with Iran isn't the only make-or-break challenge the next government will face. Israel's future as a democracy also hangs in the balance.

Each year, public faith in Israel's legal fraternity tumbles. Last February, a mere 7% of the public told pollsters they trust the legal system. If serious reforms are not undertaken to check and balance the powers of the Israeli Supreme Court and the state prosecution, the public will permanently lose its power to select its leaders and demand accountability for their actions. In the public's stead will stand the unelected, self-appointed attorneys and their radical politics. They will control Israel through their power to prosecute—or not prosecute—politicians.

Caroline B. Glick is a Newsweek columnist, the senior contributing editor of Jewish News Syndicate, and the diplomatic commentator for Israel's Channel 14. She is also the author of The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East, (Crown Forum, 2014). From 1994 to 1996, she served as a core member of Israel's negotiating team with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.