May 24, 2019

Seven Comments on the Indictment of Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem January 7, 2018. REUTERS/Abir Sultan/Pool

On Feb. 28 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was indicted by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Here are seven comments about the indictment: 


1. No jaw dropped Feb. 28, when the most anticipated political event of the season finally materialized. The Attorney General decided to indict Prime Minister Netanyahu, pending a hearing, for bribery and other misdeeds. The legal process is slow and is going to keep moving forward. It could take months until a hearing takes place, and then a final decision is made, and an indictment filed. It could take years for the court to do what courts do, including appeals. 

2. The AG case is simple: Netanyahu received gifts and gave something in return. With some wealthy people, it was cigars and whiskey. With others, positive media coverage. In some instances, it worked, and a deal was completed. In other cases, it was an unsuccessful attempt to have a deal. There was no money involved. The gifts could be seen as friendly gestures – cigars – and are often hard to quantify – a positive news item. Netanyahu argues that these are routine exchanges between a politician and his supporters, or the media.

3. The Prime Minister made a speech to the public tonight. His goal is not to persuade the legal establishment; his goal, for now, is to win decisively in the coming election. Such a win could reshuffle the cards. It could give the AG a pause before making a final decision.

4. Netanyahu’s rival, Benny Gantz, also made a speech. He vowed not to sit with Netanyahu in the same government. The option of a unity government is dead. That is, unless the leadership of the Likud Party moves to unseat Netanyahu – an unlikely scenario in case of decisive election victory; a more likely scenario if Gantz victory is decisive.

5. We don’t yet know how the public feels about the indictment. It will take a few days, and a few polls, to see if the needle of political support has moved. Netanyahu might lose votes – if the public feels uncomfortable with him. He might gain – if his base is convinced that the PM is being framed. Or maybe, nothing will change. Maybe the public already factored in the expected indictment in the polls that were issued in the last couple of weeks.

6. And remember, support for Netanyahu is important, but those wanting to unseat him need the votes not just to move away from Likud but also to move in a certain direction. There needs to be a change in the balance between the blocs.

7. A Prime Minister is accused of bribery. This is not a happy day for Israel.