“We’re not here to do deals. We’re here to bring the truth to light,” the prime minister said.
In the wake of his arraignment at the Jerusalem District Court on Sunday afternoon and hours after conducting the first Cabinet meeting of the newly sworn-in government, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sat down for a lengthy chat with Channel 20‘s Boaz Golan. The following are translated excerpts from the interview.
Boaz Golan: Mr. Prime Minister, good evening. We are here after the first hearing [of your trial]. How are you feeling?
Netanyahu: I think it was an important day. You know why? Because for the first time, Israeli citizens heard the truth. The things that I said outside the courtroom were the truth. And the time has come to speak the truth.
I also requested that there be a live broadcast—not one that’s cut and that all the transcript writers on all the channels play with. A full live broadcast. Because I have nothing to hide. I want everything to be exposed. And when it’s exposed, it will be understood that they’re trying to bring down a strong prime minister from the right, in order to bring down the right for generations. Everyone understands it.
Golan: You received much support from the public, including from Holocaust survivors, the elderly, young people. Many members of the public are behind you.
Netanyahu: Yes, it’s very moving. You know what moved me the most? First of all, the Holocaust survivors. That was a shiver-eliciting moment. I finish the Cabinet meeting. And before going to Salah a-Din Street [where the Jerusalem District Court is located], representatives [from an organization of] Holocaust survivors ask to see me. Most are very elderly women. And one of them says to me: “I was [hiding] in the forests [during World War II], and we never forget. We don’t forget you [either]. You’re not alone.”
What can I tell you? It’s heart-wrenching.
Afterwards, a 12-year-old girl named Shuval, who is celebrating her bat mitzvah today, came to demonstrate outside [the courthouse], and said, “I came on the day of my bat mitzvah to demonstrate, because I want to bolster the prime minister, so that he’s not alone. I see how he’s constantly under attack. I want to make him happy.”
What can you say about something like that? It’s moving to the point of tears.
Golan: I want to ask you about your personal feelings. You fought for the country. You were wounded. You have the hardest job in the world. On the other hand, you find yourself in court. What do you need it for?
Netanyahu: So ask me what I needed to be wounded for; what I needed to fight for; why I needed to enact reforms that changed the face of the economy; why, every single night, my family and I put up with these kangaroo courts in the media. Terrible things. Speaking of which, we must, must, must put on trial those reporters [and police], because they try to tamper with witnesses. They threaten them. Threaten them! Did you see that?
They tell a state’s witness, “If you dare change your testimony to support Netanyahu, you’re going to jail. And they tell another witness, or another suspect, “If you don’t testify against Netanyahu, you will go to jail.”
That’s extortion! And it’s allowed to pass. They say, “We got the approval of the attorney-general.”
So, how do I feel? I feel that there is injustice going on here. I feel the need to do justice. I feel that I’m not [entering court] … with my head lowered. I come full of courage, not only to fight for my own justice, but for the sake of justice for all of us. After all, they’re trying to topple me because I don’t bow my head.
That illustrious gang of a number of lawyers, police and journalists from the left-wing media decided to “stitch up” charges against me that are delusional and unfounded. … So, how did I feel today [in court]? I felt that I was fighting one of the most just and important fights of the State of Israel and the people of Israel.
Golan: I am personally familiar with the recordings [incriminating] Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. He cannot serve in his role, and certainly not issue indictments against you. Did you make a mistake when you appointed him?
Netanyahu: Who knew about all those things [revealed about the Harpaz affair] in the recordings? Moshe Nissim, who headed the search committee [for his appointment] said, “If I had known about those recordings, it’s doubtful whether I would have recommended him [Mandelblit]. … By the way, to this day, we still don’t know [the exact contents of the recordings]…. But the question is, “What’s there to hide?”
Here, I’m saying, “Live broadcast.” I also requested that for the arraignment. They [the judges] refused. The attorney general refused. I told him, “I have nothing to hide.” And I’m saying that today, as well. Expose everything! A full live broadcast. Complete, not cut. And bring on those tapes.
Why did [Mandelblit] … allow the extortion of witnesses against me? That’s something that isn’t [seen] in any law-abiding democracy. Why aren’t [the prosecutors] willing to hand over … a Justice Ministry document that they sent to the State Comptroller’s Office—one relating to the key issue on which I’m allegedly indicted and [which exonerates me?] The Justice Ministry’s own document says there was no wrongdoing in the prime minister’s behavior or actions. I’m unable to receive it. I want the public to see it, because it topples all those charges.
Why are all these things happening? Why did Mandelblit approve bringing an unfounded accusation that doesn’t exist in the history of democracies? In the 244 years since the Declaration of Independence of the United States, nobody has ever been indicted for receiving positive media coverage, which in any case I didn’t receive. I’m the most defamed prime minister in the country’s history.
Why did he [Mandelblit] lend his hand to all this? Well, it raises a question. Is it connected to something that is held in the safes of the Justice Ministry? The recording you’re referring to, and other recordings—why aren’t they being made public? What is there to hide? … It’s a question that can only be answered if this all comes to light. Sunlight disinfects. It’s the best disinfectant there is. It’s got to be opened up [to the public].
Golan: Is there a chance of opening it up while Mandelblit wears two hats [attorney general and acting state attorney]?
Netanyahu: That’s the question. He’s become the investigator of himself. The person who had to examine this issue was State Attorney Dan Eldad. But they fired him. Or let’s just say that he was forced to resign. And now Mandelblit is his own investigator. It’s amazing. And it all goes by quietly.
And what [Channel 13‘s] Raviv Drucker did on live television! [Drucker conducted a mock Neteanyahu trial last Thursday, replete with leaked quotes from state witnesses, in violation of sub judice] … What is the attorney-general going to do with this? Bury it, like the innumerable complaints that we submitted about leaks against me from the State Attorney’s Office and police? … He didn’t look into a single one [of those complaints]. They all went straight into the garbage…
But these are criminal offenses [that carry] years of jail time. Things cannot go on like this. We want the rule of law. We want what other democracies have. No other democracy has such things …
They take a girl that works here in [my] house, a cleaner named Svetlana, who goes to complain against the house manager [Meni Naftali], who was involved in another unfounded and ridiculous case involving my wife and food platters. She [Svetlana] wants to report that the state’s witness in that case sexually harassed her—here, on the second floor of the house.
A senior detective enters and tells her that the police are throwing her complaint into the garbage, [and says]: “If you don’t provide testimony—false testimony—that Netanyahu is the one who sent you here [to lodge the complaint], you’ll spend the night in the Neve Tirtza Prison for women. Tell me, is that normal? That detective is a senior detective in the team investigating me. It’s absurd!
All of these things have to be exposed in full. All transcripts of investigations, of extortions of her [Svetlana] and others.
[Then there’s the case of] another [state] witness, [former media adviser Nir Hefetz]. A certain woman connected to him is brought to the hallway of the investigations department, and he’s told, “If you don’t give us what we want in relation to Netanyahu, we’ll destroy your family.”
Tell me, is that normal? Is that the rule of law? Is that democracy?
Alan Dershowitz, among the world’s leading legal scholars, a professor [emeritus] at Harvard, said that this trial is a great danger to democracy and the rule of law.
Trying to topple a prime minister with baseless charges, obtained through polluted—criminal—methods is certainly not pleasant for me personally, but it threatens the whole idea of elections, of democracy, of majority rule. The majority wants [those things], not this State Attorney’s Office or these offenses. It doesn’t want these methods. It wants a clean country and it wants a prime minister from the right. And if they fail again and again to beat me through elections—and they haven’t succeeded at that for more than 10 years—they try something else.
Golan: Where have we been all these years on the right about the whole issue of the [politically interventionist] Supreme Court?
Netanyahu: We weren’t there; there wasn’t a majority [against it]. [The support] was always lacking. Not just the Supreme Court. There’s no oversight. There’s no oversight of the State Attorney’s Office or the attorney general. None. There is no power like it in the world. That’s what many senior American jurists have said …
The minute you have such a centralized power, absolute power, it corrupts absolutely. And to all those pundits accusing me of inciting against the rule of law I say, excuse me? I want to protect the rule of law! I want to defend democracy. No other democracy has what we have here.
And believe me, citizens on the street … understand this …
By the way, I’m not talking about all the attorneys or all the police, because it’s not true of all of them.
Golan: Is there a chance that you’ll agree to a plea bargain?
Netanyahu: No. We’re not here to do deals. We’re here to bring the truth to light.
Golan: Mr. Prime Minister, you enjoy wide support in the public, much of which is claiming that it is the justice system on trial.
Netanyahu: I think that what will stand at the center of this trial is what was done by the state attorney and the police; what was done during those criminal investigations; [and] the invention of these absurd charges … in the court of public opinion. In my opinion, it’s most important for the public to hear [the proceedings]. That’s why I requested a live broadcast. Everything out in the open, not edited selectively by the fake news channels …
They didn’t manage to topple a prime minister who is stronger than they … Look at their gross intervention in the elections. They said, “We’ll bring on the suspicions before the April elections.”
That didn’t work. … Before the third round [of elections], they issued the indictments. That was supposed to be the death blow. It wasn’t, because the citizens … are much smarter than they are deemed. They gave the Likud Party, headed by me, more votes than we’ve ever received, and more than any other party has ever received. It was a nearly 40 percent increase from the votes we received in the 2015 elections, before all the investigations began. [Yet] since then, the population has grown by only 10 percent.
It’s a huge expression of faith in me, in my path, in the public that I represent. And it’s an expression of an unprecedented lack of faith in that gang that conjured up and put into action the baseless indictments. … The public isn’t stupid. The public and I understand that we’re in this together, but so are [the counter forces].
The truth must be exposed to the public [via live television], not only in court. [What’s going on here] really reminds me of Soviet rule.