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BIBI NETANYAHU- I AM THE STATE (OF ISRAEL)!

'So what if Bibi likes gifts of cigars and champagne!'

Israeli PM Netanyahu, French King Louis X1V

Now fighting for his political life, Israel's Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has launched a no-holds barred campaign. Subject to several police investigations on suspicion of political and financial fraud, Netanyahu is trying to rally the Likud party behind him no matter what the outcome. He probably has succeeded. Several thousand cheering Likudniks from all over the country flocked to a political pep rally for the PM in Tel Aviv. It was an impressive show of strength that Bibi is still in the driver's seat with the backing of the Likud rank-and-file despite the media's daily revelations.

Bibi was at his best or worst, depending on your perspective. He sailed into the media and the Left-wing opposition charging they are colluding in an 'undemocratic witch-hunt' to topple him after he was elected fair and square by the Israeli public. This was the force driving the current police investigations, and he was certain that despite the media hype 'nothing will come of it because there is nothing!' This has been his battle cry and the crowd of Likud stalwarts lapped it up, repeatedly chanting 'Bibi, Bibi'.

But it's Bibi's people who are investigating!

Mandleblitt was a personal appointment of Bibi and a former pal, who served the PM's cabinet secretary - you don't get any closer than that.

In effect, Bibi was indirectly criticizing the Attorney General Avichai Mandleblitt who is overseeing the investigations and Police Chief Roni Al Sheik whose sleuths are tracking suspects. Without naming them, the PM was actually castigating Israel's legal authorities for doing the bidding of the media and the Left-wing opposition. But this flies in the face of one no fake-news fact: Mandleblitt was a personal appointment of Bibi and a former pal, who served the PM's cabinet secretary - you don't get any closer than that. In addition, the Chief of Police also owes his job to Bibi. So what ax do they have to grind by investigating the PM?

Never mind that a new and most startling revelation has rocked the country. Ari Harro, Bibi's former administrative 'chief of staff' has now turned state's witness against Netanyahu. This episode covers an attempt, which never panned out, by Netanyahu and Yediot Ahronot owner Arnon Moses, to fix better press coverage for Bibi in return for a financial kickback to Yediot Ahronot. What is all the more mind-boggling is that Bibi reportedly instructed Harro to tape his own illegal conversations with Moses! Those conversations have fallen into the hands of the police. Bibi reportedly claims he would never have gone through with the scam; he just wanted to gather taped evidence against Moses.

He explained the witch hunt against him was really aimed at the entire Likud party and its members. Although the Left wing and the media had targeted him, they were really out to bring down the Likud party.

However, none of this cuts any ice with Netanyahu loyalists who demand their idol remain in power no matter how he might have broken the law. The PM could not agree more. In an attempt to ridicule the numerous police inquiries that have even spiraled into financial kickbacks from the potential three billion dollar purchase of German submarines, Bibi with tongue in cheek, even told his admiring audience that he had just heard rumors that Kia, the family dog, was also about to be questioned. Despite his personal political woes, that would keep most leaders awake all night, Bibi was as brash as ever. He explained the witch hunt against him was really aimed at the entire Likud party and its members. Although the Left wing and the media had targeted him, they were really out to bring down the Likud party. This has an ethnic connotation. The Likud draws its support mainly from Mizrachi Jewish voters, whereas the Left wing Labor Party and the media are dominated by Ashkenazi Jews. (As a matter of fact, Bibi is also Ashkenazi, whereas the new Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay is Mizrachi. When asked to explain this discrepancy, some Mizrachi Likudniks replied that Bibi may be Ashkenazi but he thinks like a Mizrachi Jew).

Waiting in the Likud wings?

David Biton (photo credit of Mickyalon - נוצר על ידי מעלה היצירה, CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Bibi pep rally is noteworthy from another angle. Since the start of the damaging police investigations, the other leading Likud cabinet ministers have taken a low profile not wanting to be tainted by the fallout. They include Yisrael Katz, Tzachi Hanegbi, Yigal Ardon and Gidon Saar who has taken a time-out from politics. However, the powerful Likud Party Chairman David Bitan stepped in warning these potential successors of the PM Bibi that they had better back Bibi now or Bitan would make sure Likudniks knew about it at the next party election. They all got the message and obediently turned up in the show of support for Bibi. Undoubtedly the PM not only wanted to intimidate the legal authorities but also deter his potential rivals inside the Likud from trying to depose him if bad comes to worse and Bibi is indicted. If Netanyahu is indicted, Israeli law will not force him to resign from office. Only after the trial is concluded, including the appeal, if it's a guilty verdict, would Bibi be forced to quit. So at the very least, the PM can remain in office well into 2018 no matter what.

There is another possibility: Bibi could try and call an early election and go to the people asking for a new mandate in spite of the suspicions against him. However, to do so, he would need the support of Likud politicians who might not go along with such a gambit. Likud's coalition partners like Defense Minister Lieberman's party and the Education Minister Naftali Bennett might also oppose such a drastic step. They might favor carrying on the current coalition but under a new Likud a new Likud PM.

On the other side of the political divide, several thousand Left-wing demonstrators have been holding protest demonstrations near the home of Attorney General Mandleblitt every Saturday evening in Petach Tikva. They are protesting what they view as the Attorney General 'dragging his feet' in the Bibi inquiries. In response, Likudniks have started gathering on the other side of the street in support of Bibi. Israeli police fill the breach to prevent any clash.

They prefer to keep Bibi embroiled in fighting the media and the legal authorities rather than turning it into a partisan party fight.

In the political arena, leaders of the opposition parties have taken a relatively low key approach in gunning for Bibi. They prefer to keep Bibi embroiled in fighting the media and the legal authorities rather than turning it into a partisan party fight.

When all is said and done, this week Netanyahu has tried to turn his personal travails into a national issue… in other words, Israel needs him to carry on as its leader no matter whether if he has broken some laws of the state along the way. Commentators could not help but draw a comparison from another time and place. None other than French autocrat King Louis XIV:      'I am the state!'


 

David Essing

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