December 7, 2019

Netanyahu Indicted: The Short Version of What You Need to Know

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks in Jerusalem, Israel. (Photo by Amir Levy/Getty Images)

What happened?

Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit indicted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This marks the first time a sitting Israeli prime minister has been indicted. The charges: Bribery, fraud and breach of trust. If you wish to better understand cases 1000, 2000, and 4000 (the most serious of the three), I’d recommend the Rosner’s Podcast episode with legal expert Ido Baum. The basic charges are simple: Netanyahu was receiving gifts and favors in exchange for influence and favors.

Are we surprised?

Not at all. If the AG would have changed his mind and decided against indictment, or, decided to reduce the level of charges – there would have been surprise. What he decided to do is what everyone expected him to do.

Is the decision justified?

The answer to this question depends on two main things:

1. How do you feel about the PM?

2. How do you feel about the legal system?

Israelis who have a great dislike of the PM would generally say that the indictment is too little too soon. Those who do like him believe that this is a case of political vendetta. 

Israelis who believe that the legal system is impartial and professional would generally say that the indictment was unavoidable. Those who believe that Israel’s State Attorneys have no sense of proportion and common sense would assume that they misfired.

Can Bibi stay as PM?

Again, in many cases one’s answer depends on one’s politics. The law is clear: He can stay. Previous Supreme Court decisions that forced out ministers when they were indicted murky the legal waters. The Supreme Court will surely look at the case. If it lets Netanyahu stay as PM, life will be simpler (if disappointing for the PM’s rivals). If the court forces him to leave, a legal-political crisis might ensue. 

What does this mean for politics?

We ought to make a few assumptions:

1. Likud voters factored in the possibility of indictment when they voted for Bibi, so for most of them, the decision will not change much.

2. Most of Bibi’s allies (and some rivals) dislike the legal system as much as he. Some of them were indicted in similar manner and are still bitter because of it.

3. If Bibi’s right-wing bloc of 55 holds (that’s the bloc that prevented Blue and White’s Benny Gantz from forming a coalition) nothing changes in the near future. 

4. There are 21 days for any MK to save Israel from a third election. The indictment made any coalition headed by Netanyahu an impossibility. No opposition party will agree to sit under him.

5. The next election will be all about the indictment. Is this good or bad for Netanyahu? It might be better than a round of election focused on religion-state issues. 

6. Still, some members of Likud might decide that this is a good time to send Netanyahu home as soon as possible. In such case, they will quickly form a unity government under someone other than Netanyahu and thus release Israel from this election headache.

7. Still, the voters might decide that this is a good time to send Netanyahu home (in a March election) and thus release Israel from this PM headache. 

So, nothing really happened?

Well – something happened. For the first time in Israel’s history a sitting Prime Minister will be indicted for charges as serious as bribery. No matter the final outcome of this sorry affair, today is a sad day.