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Benyamin Netanyahu

It is not a question of if, but when Israel's Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu will be forced to leave office, one way or another. The inexorable process has been accelerated by several dramatic developments over the last seven days. Bibi has lashed out in a startling and unbridled tirade against the nation's entire legal process focusing on Israeli police investigators who have been questioning him on suspicion of financial corruption and trying to 'fix' news coverage. He was speaking at a gathering of Likud party rank and file at a Chanukah celebration. But a beleaguered Bibi had little to celebrate - things have been going from bad to worse. 

For his part, the PM repeatedly contends that friends are allowed to give gifts – they were not bribes because he did not use his high office to grant them favors in return.

A couple of days earlier, Bibi was interrogated for the seventh time by Israeli Police and for four straight hours. This came against the background of reports the Israeli Police will soon release their findings on whether there is sufficient evidence to indict Netanyahu. Bibi has admitted to accepting hundreds of thousands of shekels of gifts for himself and for his wife Sarah, from fat-cat friends. For his part, the PM repeatedly contends that friends are allowed to give gifts – they were not bribes because he did not use his high office to grant them favors in return. However Israeli law says the opposite- it is illegal for public officials and employees to accept gifts - no ifs, ands, or buts. On this score, Meir Shamgar, a highly respected former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, has said categorically that Bibi should resign. It should also be noted that Shamgar is an old supporter of Herut, the historic forerunner of the Likud.

The Israeli process requires the Police to publicize their findings at the end of an investigation and recommend to the State Attorney whether there are sufficient grounds for indicting the suspect. The State Prosecutor then examines the police findings and decides its position. If it also rules for an indictment, this is passed up the chain to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblitt, who has the final say.

Bibi actually believes police have goods on him …

It can be assumed that if Bibi believed the Police did not have a credible case against him, he would not have antagonized them by accusing them of being in league with the Media in a Left-wing conspiracy to topple him from office. On the contrary, Bibi himself realizes the police do have the goods on him, so he decided to preempt and discredit his interrogators before their recommendations are made public knowledge.

Likud coalition whip resigns due to suspicion of graft…

David Bitan (photo by Mickyalon - CC BY-SA 4.0)

Within 24 hours of Bibi's bashing of the Israeli police, his coalition whip, David Bitan, suddenly resigned. Bitan himself is also facing an intense police investigation into taking huge bribes when he served previously in municipal politics. While also professing to be as clean as the driven snow, Beitan said he could no longer serve as Bibi's 'Man Friday' due to the time he needed to refute the 'false charges' against him. However, another version is that the PM gave Bitan the push – Bibi's own graft investigation was already tainting the Likud more than enough.

Likud awe-struck by fallout….

The Likud party, like the rest of the country, is shell-shocked by the allegations of corruption in very high places. Although Bibi's strategy is to try and vilify the Israeli media and police, most Likud cabinet ministers and Knesset members are taking a low profile for fear of also being painted with the same brush. They mumble things like 'everyone is innocent until proven guilty'. They are keenly aware the PM is still very popular with the party rank and file who may not be all that concerned with legal niceties. However, Transport Minister Yisrael Katz has said he will run for the Likud leadership whenever Bibi decides to step down. Gideon Saar, another popular Likudnik, who took a 'time-out' from politics after differences with Bibi, has also been making more public appearances lately and is expected to throw his hat in the ring. But again, only after Bibi's departure. Until now the Likud party has been standing behind Bibi, who is fighting for his political life and staying out of the slammer. This is not so far-fetched; former PM Ehud Olmert wound up behind bars for taking a bribe.

First Right-wing demo against Bibi…

But there may come a turning point. Every Saturday night for weeks, Left-wingers have been holding demos against Bib's alleged corruption in Tel Aviv. The PM and his supporters charge that the Left is simply trying to bring down the Likud government on the pretext of corruption. The fact that the demos have been organized by the Left has deterred many Right-wingers from participating, although they are also fed up. (For example, there is another ongoing police inquiry into the involvement of Lawyer David Shimron, a cousin and close friend of Bibi, in the purchase of three new subs from Germany that may have 'gifted' Shimron with a huge commission. Bibi claims to know nothing about Shimron's involvement.

The damning tape was discovered by chance when police arrested the aide on unrelated charges.

Another case also sounds loony. Get this, Bibi had one of his aides tape surreptitiously a meeting the PM had with Yediot Ahronot owner Noni Moses, where they discussed fixing news coverage in return for boosting the paper's sales. The damning tape was discovered by chance when police arrested the aide on unrelated charges. Talk about corruption running rife. 

So why aren't more Right-wingers disgusted with what's going on? They are, but they do not want to be linked to a Left-wing campaign. But a turning point may be in the offing. For the first time, Right wingers have planned a Right-wing demonstration in Jerusalem's Zion Square to voice their opposition to the financial corruption in government.

The organizer is Dr. Yoaz Handel, a former senior aide to the PM who was fired by Bibi for taking administrative action against another employee in the PM's office, who was suspected of sexual harassment of a female employee.

Moreover, a leading Right-wing columnist, Yisrael Harel has openly called on Bibi to resign. Harel was writing in the Leftist Ha'aretz newspaper. For years, Bibi Netanyahu has been the Right wing's meal ticket to power – but the current state of affairs has been turning him into a political liability.

...only at the very end of this lengthy legal process would Bibi be legally obligated to resign, if a guilty verdict were upheld.

No way of telling how things will go. The legal process hits at its own pace. As mentioned, after the Israeli Police present their recommendations to the State Prosecutor - who will give his ruling and pass them on to Attorney General Avichai Mandleblitt, who has the final say on whether to indict Netanyahu - then the PM would be tried by a lower court with the verdict possibly appealed in the Supreme Court. Now get this: only at the very end of this lengthy legal process would Bibi be legally obligated to resign, if a guilty verdict were upheld. So don't hold your breath, it could take quite a while. The next general election is scheduled for November 2019.

There is a legal short-cut. If Bibi got fed up with a losing legal battle he could seek a plea bargain – he could resign in return for all charges dropped against him and disappear into the beautiful sunset in his villa on the coast of the Mediterranean.

Political Analyst David Essing


David Essing

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