Oliver Twist. “Mr. Bumble walked on with long strides…” Watercolor drawing by C.E. Brock

IsraCast chooses this literary quotation as the most apt reaction of many Israeli legal experts, as well as disgruntled voters, who are now flabbergasted by their High Court’s ruling. To wit: the Supreme Court judges have handed down their final verdict – acting Prime Minister Bibi Netanyanyu can legally form a new government, despite having been formally indicted for fraud, bribery, and breach of trust. 

Obviously, our headline requires some explanation for readers who are not familiar with the irascible Mr. Bumble in “Oliver Twist” by Charles Dickens. Mr. Bumble was summoned to court to personally answer for the illegal actions of his wife. When he protested, the judge informed him that the law “supposes” a husband responsible for his wife’s misdeeds. Mr. Bumble thought for a second and then retorted, “If the law supposes that, the law is a ass, a idiot!” 

This weird state of affairs is now applicable to Israel’s current legal and political state of affairs. In our case, it involves a lacuna, a loophole in Israeli law that Netanyahu has exploited and apparently bamboozled Israel’s Supreme Court. Although a cabinet minister who is indicted cannot continue serving in the government, let alone form a new cabinet, this does not apply to an acting Prime Minister. In other words, Israeli law does not bar the leader at the top of the totem pole. How is this possible? There is no plausible explanation, but one supposition is that the politicians who formulated the law did not visualize that an acting Prime Minister would dare to try and carry on as national leader after being indicted! 

Bibi writes his own rulebook …

Netanyahu (photo by Kjetil Elsebutangen)

But Mr. Netanyahu is indeed a political wizard who never fails to pull the rabbit out of the hat. And the truth is that Bibi is by far the most experienced political leader with no real challengers in his Likud party or any other party for that matter. Even after Netanyahu was indicted, his primary challenger, Benny Gantz of the Blue and White party, failed to rise to the occasion and could only wind up tied after three successive elections in a year. 

Netanyahu is still the “darling” of right-wingers who view his acceptance of illegal gifts (to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars in cigars and champagne, etc.) as no big deal. The reaction is that “Netanyahu is such a great leader; he deserves everything he gets.” As for the indictment for trying to fix the media. the reaction is, “They’re a bunch of left-wing bleeding hearts anyway.” (Similar to US President Trump’s approach in America.) 

On the plus side, there are Bibi’s good relations not only with Donald in Washington but also with Vladimir in Moscow. Note Russia’s apparent acquiescence in Israel’s persistent air offensive against Iran’s repeated attempts to build a forward military base in Syria (similar to Hezbollah in Lebanon). 

And now, he has run Israel’s successful campaign in coping with COVID-19. The fatality rate, mainly of elderly people, has been far lower proportionally than most other countries. Moreover, schools and businesses are gradually getting back to normal. Also, as previously reported by IsraCast, the Institute for Biological Research in Nes Tziona has reported more progress in developing a corona vaccine. 

Palestinian rejectionism has decimated Israel’s Center and Left-wing leaders

Closing the circle of Israel’s leadership, Bibi has become the longest-serving Prime Minister. This is due in part to the absence of credible challengers in over a decade or so. Netanyahu was trounced earlier on in his career by the late Yitzhak Rabin, and then by Ehud Barak, both of Labor. Bear in mind that Barak, as testified by President Bill Clinton, went to Camp David, where he literally offered Yasser Arafat “the kitchen sink.” Still, the Palestinian leader did not even reply. 

And before Barak, Rabin was also willing to negotiate a Palestinian state while insisting on an Israeli security zone in the Jordan Valley of the West Bank. My point is that the Palestinian’s refusal to negotiate has left Israel’s center and left-wing parties high and dry. And even when former PM Ehud Olmert offered extraordinary concessions, rather than grasping them with both hands, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in effect, first ignored and then rejected them. 

Enter Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White party. A former IDF Chief of Staff who still has a long way to go before, if ever, he achieves the stature of a viable national leader. Remember this, both Rabin and Barak trounced Netanyahu at the ballot box, but that was before the turn of the 21st Century!

Summing up, so far, Bibi and Benny have agreed on a “rotation” of the premiership. Bibi will serve as PM for the first one-and-a-half years while Benny takes over the defense ministry. According to plan, in another 18 months, they will switch jobs. Maybe during this period, Gantz will benefit and grow in political stature as Israel’s new Defense Minister. As for Bibi, he will have to take some time off as PM in the months ahead to face the music in his court hearings. Not to worry – he just took on 11 High Court judges and won hands down. 

Supreme Court’s original sin? 

Israel’s Supreme Court Justices with President and Prime Minister (photo by Kobi Gideon CC BY-SA 3.0)

A final word on Israel’s Supreme Court that, until now, has enjoyed, more or less, a sterling record both in Israel and abroad. However, Chief Justice, Esther Hayuth, may be guilty of fumbling the ball. Before the most recent election, there were petitions by citizens to the High Court requesting a ruling on whether or not the indicted Netanyahu could legally form a new government if he were to win the upcoming election. Chief Justice Hayuth ruled that it was a hypothetical issue, and the court would not hand down a pre-election decision. But this may have been a grievous mistake. 

Bibi did win the election, more or less, and then the High Court was faced with having to then rule on and perhaps disqualify Netanyahu. In effect, his disqualification would have meant throwing all the votes of Netanyahu’s supporters into the garbage bin! In our view, this was a legal short-sightedness of the highest order and exposed the High Court to unprecedented and harsh criticism for the final outcome. 

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