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In NYT op-ed, Bret Stephens hails Zelensky as the Jewish leader Netanyahu should be

Conservative columnist says Ukraine’s president waging campaign to clean up corruption, while Israel’s PM doing what he can to ‘keep the crooks in’

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, left, meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, in Jerusalem, January 24, 2020. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, left, meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, in Jerusalem, January 24, 2020. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Conservative columnist Bret Stephens took Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to task in a New York Times op-ed on Tuesday for enabling corruption in Israel and compared him unfavorably to another Jewish world leader, Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky.

Stephens, a former editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post, noted in his piece how Zelensky fired a corrupt official on Sunday vowing to rid Ukraine of corruption. At the same time, Netanyahu was forced by the High Court of Justice to fire Shas leader Aryeh Deri over his criminal convictions but vowed to do everything he could to bring him back into the government. Deri has been appointed health and interior minister.

“What a contrast,” Stephens wrote. “Amid a desperate war of national survival, Zelensky is waging a campaign to kick the crooks out of government. And in a desperate bid to remain in office, Netanyahu is waging a campaign to keep the crooks in.”

Deri appointed temporary acting ministers as replacements for himself, suggesting that he hopes to soon return to ministerial office, as he and other coalition heads vowed on Monday.

Stephens noted that he used to admire Netanyahu for his good governance, leading Israel’s flourishing economy and thwarting Iran’s drive to nuclear weapons, but no longer.

“For these reasons, I once called Netanyahu the Richard Nixon of Israel. But that turned out to be deeply unkind — to Nixon. At least there were limits to what the 37th president was willing to do to the system of constitutional government to keep himself in office,” the article read, in reference to the former US president who resigned before an imminent impeachment by Congress over his role in the Watergate scandal.

Shas leader MK Aryeh Deri and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Shas faction meeting in Knesset, January 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Stephens slammed Netanyahu for planning a judicial overhaul that will weaken the High Court’s independence in order to extricate himself from his corruption trials and put Israel on a path toward authoritarian rule.

“But if Israel is to persevere, it also must maintain the moral respect of its honest friends. Too bad for it that, today, the Jewish people’s greatest leader resides in Kyiv rather than Jerusalem,” he concluded.

New York Times op-ed columnist Bret Stephens. (Jason Smith via JTA)

Netanyahu is on trial in three corruption cases on charges of fraud and breach of trust, as well as bribery in one of them. He denies wrongdoing and claims the charges were fabricated in an attempted political coup led by the police, the state prosecution, the media, and left-wing rivals.

Netanyahu’s coalition is in the midst of pushing contentious legislation that will radically change the judiciary. The overhaul proposed by Levin would drastically limit the High Court of Justice’s power of judicial review of legislation; allow the Knesset to re-legislate laws if the court strikes them down; give the government control over judicial appointments; turn ministry legal advisers’ into political appointees, and make their counsel non-binding.

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