July 15, 2019

A Guide to Deciding If Netanyahu Should Stay or Go

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters

“The attorney general has reached a clear conclusion, by which corrupt, improper motives, were at the core of Netanyahu’s actions.” So, this is it.

Or maybe not. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said he plans to indict Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pending a hearing. The decision was announced 40 days before election day. The hearing will come many months after election day. Mandelblit clarified — and muddled — the situation by the same action. He informed voters that there is evidence Netanyahu is criminally corrupt, pending a hearing and a trial. He also confused voters by revealing this information. How should they respond to it?

There are three typical responses in Israel to this new, if expected, development. One is to see Netanyahu as not guilty, despite the new information, some of it quite disturbing, that appears in the 50-page document that details how Mandelblit reached his conclusion. One is to see Netanyahu as guilty, despite the fact that there is still a hearing that can change legal minds, and possibly a trial, which can vindicate or implicate him. 

The third option is the that of the perplexed voters, those who don’t yet know how to respond to the new information. Pollster Menachem Lazar told me that about 1 in 5 voters haven’t decided whom to vote for. That’s 24 seats in the next Knesset. Professor Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University has tallied that about 15 percent of voters are undecided. But based on other questions he asked, Fuchs believes that there are many more voters who still might change their minds. Of course, not all of these voters are undecided because of Netanyahu or his looming indictment. But some are. What should they weigh as they make a decision? I am not sure that all of them run through all the options in a methodical way, but there is a way to do such a thing. It goes like this:

If you consider Netanyahu guilty, and a bad prime minister, then don’t vote for him (or for parties supportive of him).

If you consider him not guilty, and a good prime minister, then vote for him (or for parties supportive of him).

If you consider him not guilty, and a bad prime minister, then don’t vote for him (or for parties supportive of him).

“What should undecided voters weigh as they make a decision?”

But here is the tricky scenario: If you consider Netanyahu guilty, and a good prime minister,  then you must ask a follow-up question: Would you tolerate a corrupt prime minister for any reason? 

If not, don’t vote for Netanyahu (or for parties supportive of him). 

But if under certain circumstances — say, if you think that without him, the country would be in grave danger — you’re willing to consider a corrupt, yet efficient, prime minister, then another follow-up question is necessary: Is this the case of corruption, and is this the man, and are these the circumstances that could prompt you to elect a corrupt yet efficient prime minister?

This is where the 50-page document issued by Mandelblit becomes handy. Voters likely have a solid opinion of Netanyahu as prime minister. Voters also have a perspective of Israel’s current circumstances. So, all voters need to complete their assessment is the document. They should read it and make one of the following two conclusions:

One: This is too much corruption for me to tolerate Netanyahu because A) Israel’s circumstances are not grave; or B) There are people besides Netanyahu who can deal with the circumstances (grave or not).

Two: This seems corrupt, but I still want Netanyahu because A) Israel’s circumstances are grave; and B) Only Netanyahu can deal with such circumstances.   

Is it easy to reach a conclusion? For some it is, for others it isn’t. Try to understand the dilemma.

Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.