From the Israeli press: What Americans understood and Israel doesn't

The US Constitution allows for only one way to topple an incumbent president:" Impeachment. The process does not take place in court or before a committee, nor in the prosecutor's office, but in the Houses of Congress which represent the public.

Elchanan Speizer

OpEds Capitol Hill Washington DC Congress America
Capitol Hill Washington DC Congress America

He is a popular but controversial right wing leader. The mainstream media and his leftist opponents accuse him of leaning dangerously towards the extremists on his side of the political fence and of using divisive tactics and fear-mongering in order to win. He uses social media to get around what he considers a hostile press. During the last few years investigations - which he calls "witch hunts" - have been conducted against him, with him proclaiming his innocence throughout.

This leader is Binyamin Netanyahu – oh, sorry, I meant Donald Trump. Actually, this is only a partial summary of the similarities between the two. Israel's prime minister has begun talking like his American friend since 2016, especially when it comes to pithy expressions like "Fake News."

Netanyahu's interrogations are centered on rewards he allegedly arranged for people who gave him personal luxuries, but the highly publicized Trump investigation that took up countless media hours for the past two years was over the allegation that he used the help of another country to win the election. Had the results of the investigation shown that to be the case, it would have caused an unprecedented political-legal crisis in the USA.

In addition to the gap between the legal entanglements of both leaders, however, there is also a major difference in the way the political and judicial systems in Israel and the USA proceed in cases where there is suspicion that a crime has been committed.

America's Founding Fathers understood the dangers that arise when an incumbent president is interrogated. In their judicious way of looking at things, they could imagine a situation where the side that loses an election, unable to attain the right to govern by democratic means, tries to find alternative ways to be rid of a duly elected president. The mantra claiming that "everything is political" is a good way to understand the thoughts by which Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison and the other drafters of the Constitution were governed. In their view, any method used to impeach a president excepting elections could serve as a shortcut to bypassing the democratic process.

It is for this reason that the US Constitution allows for only one way to topple an incumbent president for "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors:" Impeachment. The impeachment process does not take place in court or before a committee, nor in the public prosecutor's office, but in the Houses of Congress which represent the public. If the people chose someone for the presidency, the people, by means of their elected representatives, are to be those who remove him from office. In the entire 242 years since the establishment of the United States of America, not one president has been impeached by Congress. In two instances – Andrew Johnson was one, in 1868 – there was a majority for impeachment in the House of Representatives, but there was no two-thirds majority for impeachment in the 100-strong Senate, as required by law. Richard Nixon's impeachment process may have ended differently had he not resigned before that could happen.

Since Trump's 2016 election victory, the wisdom of the Founding Fathers has become increasingly evident. There has scarcely been a day since November 9, 2016 without Trump being accused by the media or his political opponents, of treason, interfering with the investigation, and whatever activities can be grounds for impeachment. For each one of these allegations, however, there is a clear process those accusing him must follow – investigate, check carefully, request the start of impeachment proceedings if evidence is discovered. Regarding the Russian involvement investigation, a special prosecutor was appointed to examine, with utmost thoroughness, the accusations leveled at the president. When he returned with no indictment, the subject was officially and legally closed.

In Israel, on the other hand, the situation differs. If the investigations against Netanyahu progresses, and it is decided to bring the prime minister to trial after his scheduled hearing, there is a good chance that a person elected by lawful democratic means will be stripped of his office or might even face imprisonment for crimes whose very existence is seen as doubtful by hundreds of thousands of Israelis – perhaps millions.  It is not hard to visualize the day after: Acrimonious debates on television, thousands out in the streets, shouting and screaming from the Knesset plenum – and that is in the best case.

If Netanyahu is reelected and brought down, nothing will succeed in convincing his supporters of his guilt. In a world where there is a completely objective judicial system, one that is totally unslanted politically, acts without fear of the public but with its unreserved support, that scenario would be understood, but as the Americans realized, the world is far from perfect, and its inhabitants certainly ae not. They understood that checks and balances exist to rein in the natural instincts of man and society. May it soon be the way things are run here.      

Elchana Speizer is an editor at the Israeli Makor Rishon Hebrew and the paper's News, Science and Foreign Affairs Editor, with expertise in international reporting, especially on the United States..