TEL AVIV — Israel “should be deeply ashamed” for putting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on trial for trying to obtain favorable media coverage, Harvard Law School professor emeritus Alan Dershowitz, who served on President Donald Trump’s defense team in the impeachment trial, said Sunday.
“Israel is the first country in modern history to ever put a political leader on trial for trying to get good media coverage or trying to eliminate negative media coverage,” Dershowitz told i24News,
“The Knesset would never in a million years pass a statute making it a crime to try to obtain good media coverage because if they did, half of the members of the Knesset would be in prison,” Dershowitz said.
“If you want to try people on these offenses in cases 1000, 2000 and 4000, let the Knesset pass statutes.”
Netanyahu, whose trial began on Sunday, addressed television cameras before entering the courtroom to face a three-judge panel, and called the investigations against him as “tainted and stitched-up.”
“This is the rule of law? This is democracy?” he said.
“They invented a special clause for me that doesn’t exist in any law book in Israel or the world. How absurd,” Netanyahu said.
There are three cases facing the prime minister. Case 1000 accuses Netanyahu and his wife Sara with receiving illegal gifts from billionaire benefactors, including Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Australian businessman James Packer.
In Case 2000, Netanyahu is suspected of striking a deal with media mogul Arnon (Noni) Mozes whereby the premier would weaken the Sheldon Adelson-backed daily Israel Hayom in return for more favorable coverage in Mozes’ Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper. In his defense, Netanyahu said he specifically voted against the law that would have weakened Israel Hayom, risking his political career in 2014 and calling new elections because of it.
The so-called Case 4000, the most damning charge facing the prime minister, involves Israeli telecommunications company Bezeq. Netanyahu is accused of ordering that regulations on Bezeq be eased in return for the phone company’s chief shareholder Shaul Elovitch giving Netanyahu positive coverage on his news site Walla.
Netanyahu noted it would mark the first time a politician would be indicted for allegedly exchanging favors for positive news coverage.
“The people recognize…: This is an attempted political coup against the will of the people,” the prime minister said.
Speaking to i24News, Dershowitz said the case is unprecedented and not only because Netanyahu is the first leader to stand trial while still in office, but because “the charges being brought against Netanyahu are not crimes.”
“What Israel is doing is using vague, open-ended and broad statutes in order to create new crimes that have never, ever been used in a democracy before,” Dershowitz said.
While Israeli law stipulates that officials are not permitted to receive gifts, and must report them if they do, Dershowitz claimed the law is too vague and that it should include a proviso for exactly what constitutes a gift that would be deemed bribery.
“Let the Knesset say, ‘anything up to 10,000 shekels is okay, but 10,001 shekels is not okay.’ You cannot have a statute that leaves it up to the prosecution to decide how much is too much,” Dershowtiz said.
“It gives them too much discretion and allows for the selective prosecution. If you want to make it a crime, many states in the United States have made it a crime, to accept ‘more than 10,000 dollars, 1,000 dollars.