Just before “going to press” with our weekly Middle East Update, reports came out saying that—Israel’s Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit will recommend that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be indicted for bribery and breach of public trust. This, on the heals of the recent story, where Netanyahu brokered a deal to bring an outright racist party into the government. This, an effort to make sure he stays in power after the next elections, in April, could be the end of the tenure for Israel’s second longest serving Prime Minister.
Just as expected, earlier this week, Israel’s Attorney General, released his report on indicting the Prime Minister on charges of bribery. The most serious charge of three, maintains that the PM exchanged political favors, that resulted in a $500,000,000 profit for the owner of Bezek (our main telecommunications company), in exchange for articles and coverage that was favorable to Netanyahu and his family. While some have said the attacks on Bibi are from from the media, it should be noted that two of most powerful media moguls in Israel have also been indicted.
Bibi’s wife Sarah has reputation in Israel of being brutal with staff and being very demanding in general. She been sued over her behavior. His son, Yair, has questionable judgement and has also been a source of embarrassment. He was once recorded asking a rich friend for money for a stripper, adding, “My dad arranged $20 billion for your dad, and you’re whining with me about 400 shekels,” —giving more weight to the bribery charge. The stripper says that Yair Netanyahu was a regular customer for years. It is reasonable that Netanyahu would seek out friendly press to portray his family in a better light.
Polls not Good for Bibi
Polls last week showed the new Blue and White (Israel’s colors) party edging out Netanyahu’s Likud, 36 to 29. Still, Netanyahu would have had the best chance of forming a coalition with other parties. However, the day after the indictment, Blue and White gained a seat, and Likud stayed put. Not a huge shift—except that the right wing block dropped below 60 seats. That would not be enough to form a government. The left wing block, now with 61 seats, would mean newcomer Benny Gantz would need to include the anti-Israel Arab parties in his government, along with the far left party, Meretz.
If Gantz wins, it would be preferable to most Israeli, that he unite with parties on the left and right in order to keep out the far right, racist party, Jewish Power and the Far left Meretz and Arab parties. It might surprise you to know that about 15% of our Knesset members are Arabs.
It is reasonable for my readers to see this as a political witch hunt. There are many similarities between Bibi and President Trump. They are both very bold, outspoken leaders and the press, by and large, hates them. However, this investigation has been public knowledge for three years. The indictment came as no surprise. It has has been in the works for months and we all knew it. The only question was when the AG would indict Bibi.
In fact, many believe that Bibi called for new elections in December (which will be held on April 9th) in order to pressure the AG to not indict him until after the elections—giving him a new four year term, first. However, it is unheard of in Israeli politics to have a sitting Prime Minister under indictment.
To the Prime Minister’s chagrin, the AG stuck with his schedule, feeling that keeping it from the public until after the elections would be wrong, and announced the inditement earlier this week, sending the Israeli political world into a frenzy. His only rival for the Prime Minister’s office is Benny Gantz, a former general and head of the IDF.
Benny Gantz (second to left) seeks to unseat Prime Minister Netanyahu
On the evening after the indictment was recommended, Gantz spoke to the public.
“I know how much [Netanyahu] loves the state of Israel. The Netanyahu I knew would not allow Israel to have a half-time prime minister (who is splitting his time between being PM and his legal issues.) I call on you to stop attacking the judicial system…and the enforcement of the law, and stop the personal attacks against officers that you yourself appointed. Instead of that, I would expect that [you to] manage your struggle as a private individual and I wish you success with that. Mr. Netanyahu, don’t forget that his country is all of ours. Israel comes before everything else. Today you chose unfortunately to march down a path that is not suitable for a Prime Minister in the state of Israel. Instead of choosing what is in the benefit of the state of Israel, you are choosing in favor of your own benefit (by not resigning). “Benjamin Netanyahu I would like to appeal to you tonight to resign and take personal responsibility. If you are proven innocent, you can return with your head held high public life.” Benny Gantz, candidate for Israeli Prime Minister
It was a brilliant speech politically. If he attacked Bibi as corrupt, it would have backfired. Instead he appealed to him to put the state before himself. Of course, he failed to mention that such a move would all but guarantee victory for himself.
Netanyahu, after blasting Mandelblit and the state prosecutors, has come under fire from the son of the most famous Likudnik, ever, Menachem Begin. Benny Begin, now in his seventies, took issue with his fellow Lukudik, Netanyahu.
Benny Begin, left, photo Israel GPO
He was “deeply troubled” after reading Mandelblit’s 57-page document detailing the suspicions against Netanyahu. “It was very difficult for me to read,” said Begin. “In his speech (after the indictment), the prime minister directly attacked the attorney general, who is legally prohibited from answering him. The remarks against the attorney general are very grave and baseless…I think those are very serious things to tell a high-ranking public official, and they are baseless.” “Mandelblit didn’t surrender to the former prime minister (Ehud Olmert, who went to jail) nor to the current one,” Begin added. “We know he has a backbone and serves the public loyally, and that he won’t obstruct justice.” Times of Israel
Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked, photo Israel GPO Mark Neyman
It is important to note, that Mandelblit was selected by Natenyahu.
Also, Justice Minister, Ayelet Sheked, who is to the right of Netanyahu and serves in his cabinet, felt his attacks against the prosecutors were misplaced and for show.
“I know the attorney general and his team, including Shai [Nitzan] and Liat Ben-Ari,” Shaked told Channel 12. “These are not people who are politically oriented. They make their decisions for the proper reasons.” Times of Israel
Let me leave you with this. Israeli politics is just as messy and corrupt as in the US. I have been a supporter of the Prime Minister for many years, but the evidence seems to be strong against him. Israeli AGs don’t just throw the head of state in jail over politics. There is no precedent for that.
Netanyahu will have a hearing in the near future, but not before elections. His lawyers will present his case to state prosecutors. If they are convinced of his innocence, the case will be thrown out. However, that is unlikely. Assuming that they move forward, Netanyahu will go on trial. If he is reelected on April 9th, he will not be obliged to resign, though there will be incredible pressure for him to do so. It is not like Bibi to backdown, but his party, and certainly those hoping to replace him as the leader of Likud, may demand it. The idea of a sitting Prime Minister going through a criminal trial while governing the country is unthinkable. Even if innocent, there is not right to public office and you have to put the country first.
Lastly, there is a reason we have term limits on the US president. Left in office too long, you start to think like a king. Look at Putin. Bibi has been the greatest statesman Israel has ever had—save Ben Gurion. Despite leading a tiny country, he is one of the most recognizable heads of state in the world. But these charges are serious, and if true, it reveals a high level of entitlement and it would be best for the country to move on. Hopefully, if we have a new prime minister, he will be as strong as Bibi has been on the world stage.
Let’s pray for Prime Minister Netanyahu and his family.