Netanyahu rejects son Yair’s hint that prosecutors deserve death sentence

But incoming PM stresses freedom of speech for firebrand son, who accused judicial officials of treason for pressing corruption charges against father

FILE - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and son Yair in Tel Aviv, January 23, 2020. (Aleksey Nikolskyi/Sputnik Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and son Yair in Tel Aviv, January 23, 2020. (Aleksey Nikolskyi/Sputnik Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday rejected remarks by his son that appeared to suggest that prosecutors be put to death for pressing charges against the elder Netanyahu, though he noted that everyone has freedom of speech.

His statement came a day after Yair Netanyahu said senior prosecutors and police had committed “treason,” the sole crime punishable by death in the Israeli penal code, when they prosecuted his father for alleged corruption.

“I love my son Yair, who is an independent person with his own views,” the elder Netanyahu tweeted. “Although everyone has the right to express criticism, I did not agree with the things he said that were published yesterday.”

Yair Netanyahu claimed Sunday on Galey Yisrael Radio that officials had committed “a willful coup d’état.”

“It’s called a coup, it’s called treason, and everyone can look at the State of Israel’s laws and see what the punishment is for treason — and it is not prison,” he told the right-wing radio station.

The comments from the younger Netanyahu, who has a history of making incendiary statements, echoed near-constant attacks on law enforcement and the judicial system as the Likud leader’s backers have sought to delegitimize the cases against him.

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing in his trial, at the district court in Jerusalem on May 31, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Hours later, in a strongly worded statement, the prosecution said it took “a severe view of verbal and physical attacks” against officials, while adding that “unfortunately in recent days we’ve again witnessed calumnious and inciting comments that have little to do with legitimate criticism.”

The prosecution, decrying a public atmosphere that has led to the “incessant harassment of devoted public servants” by activists, said that “attempts to denigrate and deter police investigators and prosecution attorneys, who toil day and night for the public and its protection, are doomed to fail.”

The head of the State Attorney Association, Orit Korin, warned that attorneys’ safety was increasingly at risk amid inflammatory discourse.

“Statements made in the past day represent severe incitement that is unprecedented, even by the standards we have come to expect,” Korin said.

“Just last week an attorney was attacked in a courtroom by a man facing criminal charges,” she added, referring to an assault at the Tel Aviv District Court that is currently being investigated.

Illustrative: Yair Netanyahu, son of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, arrives for a court hearing in a lawsuit filed by former MK Stav Shafir in Tel Aviv, on November 29, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/ Flash90)

Under law, treason is punishable by death in some cases, but Israel has carried out the death penalty for that crime only once, when imposed by a military court against IDF officer Meir Tobianski in the 1948 War of Independence, although he was posthumously fully exonerated. The only other occasion the death penalty has been carried out since then was against Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann, who was hanged in 1962 for genocide and crimes against humanity.

Coalition deals for the incoming government have included an agreement to enact the death penalty for terrorists.

Yair Netanyahu, who has positioned himself as a right-wing provocateur, has regularly posted inflammatory messages on social media and often tweets against those he believes have wronged him and his family, sometimes running afoul of terms of use and libel laws.

In a follow-up tweet later Sunday, he said that his intention had been to highlight “the severity of the crimes committed by those who concocted the cases, according to Israeli law, and nothing beyond that, certainly not to call for harming anybody.”

The elder Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing in the cases against him and claims, without evidence, that the charges were fabricated in a witch hunt led by the police and state prosecution. Those claims have been echoed by his supporters and political allies, who have backed far-reaching changes to the judicial system that critics say could shield him.

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