Netanyahu Vows to Fight on as Criminal Charges Mount

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region

December 5, 2018

Not for the first time, Israeli police have apparently uncovered enough evidence to recommend charges against the country’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. This time the evidence points to a quid-pro-quo deal between Mr. Netanyahu and an Israeli telecommunications company, with the prime minister receiving favorable media coverage in exchange for rigging regulatory rules. The opposition and several observers have called for the immediate resignation of the prime minister. But Mr. Netanyahu has resisted calls to quit, attacking the police report and his detractors. Staying on as prime minister remains likely — a feat made easier by the lack of a credible alternative.

 Israel’s main left-leaning daily, Haaretz, issued a scathing editorial calling on the prime minister to resign, urging him to put the country ahead of his self-interest: “By law, Netanyahu isn’t obligated to resign, and judging by his reaction, he intends to remain in office and fight to clear his name. Every citizen has the right to be presumed innocent, and this shouldn’t be taken lightly. But Netanyahu’s insistence on being presumed innocent even as police recommendations have piled up against him in several different cases goes beyond the bounds of the reasonable…. The aggressive, inflammatory, slanderous responses by Netanyahu and those close to him prove that when it comes down to a choice between his own welfare and that of the country, he prefers his own.”

It isn’t only the left which is up in arms, however. In a recent Jerusalem Post op-ed, Gil Troy casts doubts on Mr. Netanyahu’s ability to look out for Israel’s best interests, suggesting to readers that they, the Israeli citizens, are his “victims”: “As corruption charges mount, the victims should grow louder in their indignation and the accused should grow quieter in their shame. Yet as corruption charges mount, the accused grows louder in his indignation – and we, the public, the victims, go quiet. It’s a beaten, demoralized silence: betrayed by our leaders, we cringe quietly as they sacrifice the public good to satisfy their ego needs. Welcome to Bibiland. Predictably, we’re enduring the latest act in this low-class, too-long-running, soap opera – which should have been canceled ages ago…. How can someone so focused on protecting his own reputation now protect the state properly?…  Israel’s prime minister should embody the nobility of Zionism, the purity of Israeli democracy. On those counts, he failed miserably.”

Calling it the “Netanyahu paradox,” David Horovitz opines in the pages of the Times of Israel on the support the prime minister enjoys from Israeli voters, despite his legal troubles: “Netanyahu remains Israelis’ preferred choice for prime minister, and the IDF’s northern border operation is likely only to underline that preference, because he is perceived as more capable than his rivals of keeping this country safe — of fending off our enemies without. But simultaneously, in his strategy for countering the bribery and related allegations against him, he deliberately foments division within, by undermining Israelis’ confidence in law enforcement and by challenging the rule of law…. A prime minister who has marshaled such careful judgment in keeping Israel relatively safe over the past decade in this treacherous and unpredictable region is acting cynically and irresponsibly with respect to Israel’s internal well-being.”

Aviad Kleinberg picks up on this paradox in an op-ed for Yedioth Ahronoth, while placing some of the blame on the opposition’s inability to present a viable alternative to Mr. Netanyahu: “The opposition’s collapse… created a situation in which it is Netanyahu and Netanyahu alone…. The fight against him became apolitical, moral, almost academic, an expression of a righteous desire. When no alternative exists (not only in the eyes of his proponents, but also in the eyes of his detractors), Netanyahu remains the default…. Netanyahu’s ‘policy’ is to buy time, this is it. His domestic policy is to crush any possibility of an open and rational discourse, for the distribution of responsibility, for a functional and not corrupt administration, for social solidarity between Jews and Arabs. A rigouts [sic], self-victimizing cliché—long live the king!”

This impasse has further fueled divisions within the country, with the various political camps already staking out their positions both against and in support of the prime minister. Haaretz reports: “Israel’s opposition leader called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign following the police’s recommendations to charge him with bribery in the co-called Case 4000. ‘Netanyahu must go home before he destroys the law enforcement in order to save his own skin,’ Tzipi Livni wrote on Twitter. ‘The people of Israel deserve a clean leadership. Elections now!’… Lawmakers from Netanyahu’s Likud party tried to diminish the gravity of the police’s announcement. Coalition head David Amsalem hinted the timing of the recommendations has to do with the departure of Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich. Likud MK Miki Zohar said the police ‘continue to cross all lines.’”

Controlling the media has long been a method for remaining in power. Mr. Netanyahu reportedly follows that trend by insisting, as Yedioth Ahronoth’s Nahum Barnea points out, that he keep the Ministry of Communications portfolio for himself: “During the coalition negotiation process, the prime minister made far-reaching concessions to Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu), Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi) and to the ultra-Orthodox parties. In return, he insisted on one thing: to serve as communications minister as well as prime minister…. Netanyahu was only interested in the media. He was obsessed, according to people who participated in the negotiation process…. The prime minister wanted to be in command of the Ministry of Communications not because he wanted to run it, but because he wanted to even the score. The enemy is the media. The key is to conquer it by force.”

And judging from Stephen Oryszczuk’s op-ed for Times of Israel, in addition to underlining the irony of Mr. Netanyahu’s criticism of the media, the politicization of the media industry in Israel may also begin to erode the people’s trust in journalism: “The charge is ironic. Netanyahu, who has long railed against ‘fake news,’ is now accused of buying better coverage with legislation. But the timing is also ironic. Just two weeks ago, a major study found that 70 percent of statements made by senior Israeli politicians were partially or wholly untrue…. While Case 4,000 (if proven) may shame the Israeli leader and his inner circle, it also shows how precarious the country’s free press is. This is a pillar on which Israel’s democracy is built…. Trust in politicians is at an all-time low. Is trust in journalism going the same way?”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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