The son of incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that senior prosecutors and police committed “treason,” a crime that is punishable by the death penalty, by allegedly framing his father, who is currently on trial for corruption.
“In the end, there was a willful coup d’état here,” Yair Netanyahu told Galey Yisrael Radio.
“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 arrayed against him.
Benjamin Netanyahu is on trial in three corruption cases, facing charges of fraud and breach of trust in all three, as well as a bribery charge in Case 4000.
Under Israeli law, treason can be 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.
In a follow-up tweet later Sunday, Yair Netanyahu 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.
Last week, Religious Zionism chairman Bezalel Smotrich tweeted that “the injustices revealed in the last few days of the Netanyahu trial prove once again the vital need to correct the legal system in Israel.”
Smotrich, a key partner in Netanyahu’s incoming government, added that he would work to adopt the key points of a reform he proposed during the election campaign, which included removing the charge of fraud and breach of trust from the criminal code.
Smotrich made the comments after witnesses testifying in Netanyahu’s criminal trial accused police investigators of harassment and said they were misled.
While Netanyahu has been carefully quiet on judicial reform in recent years amid the investigation into him and subsequent trial, his close confidant and new Knesset speaker MK Yariv Levin is a staunch supporter of judicial reform and will likely helm the Justice Ministry.
The incoming government has already declared its intention to increase political control over the judiciary. Three key proposals being discussed are a move to legislate an override clause, by which the Knesset can reinstate any law invalidated by the Supreme Court; put judicial appointments under political control, as opposed to the current hybrid political-professional-judicial appointments panel; and split the role of the attorney general, who is currently both the head of the state prosecution and the government’s legal adviser.
Likud has also said it plans to turn legal advisers in government ministries into positions of trust, which means the advisers would be hired and fired at political will. Currently, government legal advisers are subordinate to the attorney general, in order to maintain the independence of their counsel.
Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara has cautioned that the incoming coalition’s proposals for judicial reform, as well as an ongoing legislative blitz that includes changes to Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws, could render Israel “a democracy in name only.”