There have been investigations of Prime Minister Netanyahu on possible legal charges relating to four different cases going on for years. The attorney general has not yet indicated which, if any, of the charges he might end up indicting the Prime Minister for. If indicted before the election, depending on what the charges are, there could be increased calls for his stepping down immediately, and stepping down as the Likud party’s candidate to be Prime Minister. It’s possible that recommendations for an indictment may come in February which will be a potential game changer.
This could be similar to the 2016 US Presidential campaign where, just before the election, FBI Director James Comey indicated that Hillary Clinton he would reopen an investigation to her possible illegal use of personal emails. It was seen then that this had an adverse impact on Clinton’s campaign. Similarly, an announcement by Israel’s attorney general about a Netanyahu indictment could have a major adverse impact to the Prime Minister.
Of the various investigations against Netanyahu, while all focus on potential violations of Israeli law, the ones that are most serious focus on alleged bribery. Other possible charges include fraud, breach of trust, and corruption.
Certainly, left wing and most opposition parties will look for any opportunity to oust Netanyahu. That is a primary, if not the central pillar of their campaigns. The question is what will be of the more centrist and right-wing parties in case of an indictment. As potential or likely coalition partners, they must balance political integrity before the voters along with pragmatically negotiating a coalition agreement if Netanyahu wins as projected. Sometimes real politick trumps integrity. We have already begun to see that with some of the parties that seek to be in the government, or at least will not rule that out. There will also be responses to a potential indictment that are muted and strive to balance the need to take a stand but not burn bridges.
Israel’s Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked, has already stated that if indicted, Netanyahu would not have to resign. Politically however, she represents a party looking to capture a greater portion of the right-wing vote and it may become expedient to backtrack from her previous position. If this were to be challenged legally in any way to the Supreme Court, that might not go in Netanyahu’s favor as the court has a tendency to be activist and left wing which could color its decision.
Even within his own Likud party there will likely be calls for Netanyahu to step down if indicted, particularly among candidates who see themselves as his successor. Some of these have strained relations with the Prime Minister. For them to call for him to step down is largely a no-lose proposition. They not only want to be his successor, but they are unlikely to be given too many senior posts in forming the next government. All are campaigning strategically alongside others, looking to the soonest opportunity to become the next Prime Minister.
Time will tell whether Netanyahu will be indicted at all, and if so on what charges, and when. There’s a school of thought that to indict him before the election would unfairly and deliberately tip the electorate. In order to maintain a sense of impartiality, that’s something that the attorney general probably does not want to seem to do. Yet he may feel obliged to do so as a matter of letting the public know who they are voting for. Recent reports are that his recommendation as whether to indict Netanyahu or not may come as soon as the middle of February. Either way, this has the ability to create a wide-ranging ripple effect through Israeli politics, in April 2019 and beyond. This will be discussed further in Part 4 of this series.
Netanyahu has aggressively charged that an indictment, or recommendation for an indictment, before the election, without the proper due process including the right to face his accusers, would be unjust at best. He recently called a prime time press conference, taking a firm stance against the charges and the process. Beyond the regular politics of an Israeli electoral season, whether an indictment is recommended or not, this is and will be a factor that influences the election’s outcome one way or another.
If he is indicted, there’s a strong sense that he may make this a central campaign theme which will resonate with many voters. Publicly blaming people out to take him down unfairly could be a strong campaign strategy. But if indicted, it may be his only strategy.
There is a sense of public embarrassment in past indictments and guilty sentences of Prime Minister Olmert, President Katzav, and several other past senior government members. Some of these have been rehabilitated and even re-elected so there is a forgiving nature among many Israelis. Or if not forgiving, there’s a willingness to overlook past indiscretions.
Obviously, the working of Israel’s legal system is a domestic issue, but in this election it’s a stand-alone issue worth noting. In the next article we will explore how an array of domestic issues impact Israelis and the upcoming election.
Footnote: If you have thoughts or questions about things raised here, or things not mentioned at all, or wish to have updates as the campaign goes along, please feel free to reach out directly. If you’d like a list of relevant articles to add depth to your understanding, please let me know. I may not be able to answer all the questions in real time but will be glad to do so where I can and incorporate these into updates in the future. Thanks for your interest. email@example.com
Jonathan Feldstein was born and educated in the U.S. and immigrated to Israel in 2004. He is married and the father of six and became a grandfather in 2018. Throughout his life and career, he has been blessed by the calling to fellowship with Christian supporters of Israel and serve as a bridge between Jews and Christians. He shares insights and experiences of living as an Orthodox Jew in Israel, writing for prominent Christian and conservative web sites and appearing on many Christian TV and radio programs. He is the president of Run for Zion and the Genesis 123 Foundation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and via www.runforzion.com.