Why Netanyahu’s prospective plea deal should matter in the U.S.

It was several years ago when then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was first accused of political corruption, which ultimately led to criminal charges. He has denied any wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty.

That may, however, soon change. The New York Times reported that the former prime minister’s lawyers are in negotiations for a possible plea bargain.

The proposed bargain includes Mr. Netanyahu’s admitting to some of the charges, all of which he still formally denies in court, in exchange for the prosecution’s downgrading the seriousness of one charge, dropping another entirely and allowing Mr. Netanyahu to avoid serving a jail sentence by instead performing community service, the two negotiators said.

To be sure, whether these negotiations will result in a deal remains unclear. By all accounts, Netanyahu does not want to accept the charge of “moral turpitude,” which would prevent him from seeking public office for seven years, and likely bar a possible comeback bid.

Time will tell what becomes of the plea talks, but from a domestic perspective, what’s notable in the United States is the fact that the Israeli process even exists: Prosecutors confronted evidence of alleged criminal misconduct on the part of their country’s prime minister, who was then charged. It’s entirely consistent with how the rule of law is supposed to be applied in a healthy and stable democracy, where no one is supposed to be above the law.

What’s more, this isn’t unique to Israel. Ten months ago, France’s Nicolas Sarkozy was convicted on corruption charges and became the first former president in France’s recent history to be sentenced to jail time. Like Netanyahu, the charges against Sarkozy related to misdeeds from his time in office.

A few months later, in June, former South Africa President Jacob Zuma was sentenced in a case stemming from his own corruption scandal.

This week in Kyiv, former President Petro Poroshenko returned to Ukraine to also face charges.

In other words, sometimes, democracies face unfortunate situations in which former leaders are accused of serious crimes, including corruption. Rather than look the other way, or create a separate legal category for former presidents and prime ministers, these countries subject the accused to the same legal process as every other private citizen.

It’s a reminder that, in the United States, if we had — hypothetically, of course — a corrupt former president who committed alleged crimes, and prosecutors had sufficient evidence to prosecute those crimes, there’s no reason we couldn’t follow a similar course.


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