Wants 'entire judicial system on floor, begging forgiveness'

Ex-Netanyahu chief of staff: ‘He wants to be like Putin, is seeking unlimited power’

Yoav Horowitz, who appeared at anti-overhaul protest last week, says PM must ‘win at all costs,’ has become filled with ‘vengefulness against the justice system’

File: Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Kremlin in Moscow on January 30, 2020. (Maxim Shemtov/Pool/AFP)
File: Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Kremlin in Moscow on January 30, 2020. (Maxim Shemtov/Pool/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s former chief of staff and confidant has said he believes the premier has increasingly adopted a maximalist approach to political power and strives to become a ruler like Russia’s authoritarian President Vladimir Putin.

Yoav Horowitz, who led the prime minister’s office in 2016-2019, was spotted for the first time last week at protests against the government’s efforts to radically reform the country’s justice system.

On Friday, he told the Haaretz daily that for Netanyahu, “losing isn’t an option.”

Horowitz said he left Netanyahu’s service in 2019 — just before the premier led the country to a series of inconclusive elections amid years of political gridlock — because “I identified in him a fatal, perilous combination of a desire to win at all costs — at all costs — and a vengefulness against the justice system for daring to [investigate him].”

He added that Netanyahu “won’t rest until the entire judicial system is on the floor, begging for forgiveness” for having put him on trial.

Further discussing his decision to leave the post, Horowitz stated, “I was afraid of where things were headed. He saw himself as something between an emperor and the president of a superpower.”

A picture taken on July 28, 2019, shows a giant election poster on the Likud party headquarters showing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin shaking hands. The writing on the billboard reads ‘Netanyahu, in another league.’ (Tal Alovich)

“I left after telling him two things: to quickly seek a plea bargain [in his criminal cases] and to prepare for a potential successor,” Horowitz said, adding that Netanyahu and his wife Sara “really didn’t like that.”

“I joined him for meetings with Putin. I saw his worship and fawning behavior toward him. I saw how much he desired to be like him,” said Horowitz.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Prime Minister’s Office Director-General Yoav Horowitz, right, arrive for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, December 16, 2018. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)

“Today he is seeking unlimited power — for no system in the state to be able to moderate or stop him.”

Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Netanyahu repeatedly touted his close relationship with authoritarian strongman Putin, who has served as Russia’s leader since 2000, using the two leaders’ warm relations as part of campaign drives.

Late last month, Netanyahu announced a pause to legislative efforts to weaken the judiciary and assert political control over judge selection, in the face of mounting public anger that included massive protests and strikes.

His government is now engaged in negotiations with opposition parties on a compromise reform package, though he and members of his government have said if talks fail, they will push their plans through parliament regardless.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) listens to his chief of staff Yoav Horowitz (R) as he attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on September 3, 2017. (AFP Photo/Pool/Abir Sultan)

Protest organizers have vowed to press on with demonstrations, believing the government to be insincere in its agreement to negotiate. The Knesset will return for its summer session at the end of the month, whereupon pressure is expected to grow within the coalition to resume the legislation.

As it stands, the plan aims to weaken the Supreme Court’s ability to serve as a check on parliament, as well as give the government almost absolute control over the appointment of judges. Critics say the plans will politicize the court, remove key checks on governmental power and cause grievous harm to Israel’s democratic character. Proponents of the measures say they will rein in a judiciary that they argue has overstepped its bounds.

The attorney general has warned that the coalition’s current package of legislation would hand the government virtually unrestrained power, without providing any institutional protections for individual rights.

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