In declaring that he is the victim of a legal witchhunt, Israel’s prime minister is rejecting the sacred “separation of powers” that define a democracy: the legislative, executive, and the judiciary. His current campaign against Israel’s legal system is again putting Israel’s democracy to the test (see last week’s article referring to the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin).
The acting PM of a “never-never-land,” with no newly elected leader after two dead-heat ballots, is urging his supporters to man the ramparts against the state’s legal system that has indicted him for bribery and fraud. While on the one hand, Netanyahu professes to trust an Israeli court, he is exploiting his rhetorical skills to urge his supporters to take to the streets. The first step was a mass demonstration in Tel Aviv, where an angry crowd chanted Bibi’s slogans while castigating the attorney general, the state prosecutors, and police investigators. After the most intensive interrogation in Israel’s history, they all found grounds for indicting the PM. Some of the incensed demonstrators even jolted TV reporters and cameramen charging the media has also colluded in “framing” Netanyahu. To their credit, only one Likud cabinet minister attended the gathering. But make no mistake, the vast majority of Likud officials are solidly behind Bibi.
In fact, Knesset member Gideon Saar is still the only Likud official ready to challenge Bibi’s leadership. However, even Saar contends that Bibi should step down solely because he has failed to form a new government after two consecutive elections this year. Moreover, he warns that the Likud could actually lose power if Netanyahu leads the party again in a third election with an indictment hanging over his head. However, the rebelling Knesset member steers clear on the validity of the charges. Meanwhile, the two-state prosecutors who oversaw the investigation into Netanyahu are now having to walk around with bodyguards.
Israel is now in the midst of a political meltdown, and this is no exaggeration. Former legal officials, including at least one Supreme Court judge, have expressed their concern. Meanwhile, in an 11th-hour attempt, Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, himself a Likud member, is trying to mediate the formation of a national unity government between Likud and the Blue and White parties. The pundits rate his chances as slim to nonexistent. The heart of the problem is over who will serve first as Prime Minister in a rotation scheme to resolve the crisis.
So, this raises the question, who will win if there is a third election? At this point, there’s no way of knowing what impact the indictment will have on Likud voters who tend to be loyal to their party leaders. Aside from the diehards who really believe that Bibi has been framed, some say, ‘So what if Bibi did receive free cigars and champaign? And if he did try to fix some of the media? Who cares, the mainstream media always leans to the left anyway, and Netanyahu was only trying to level the playing field.’
Therefore, it is hard to say if a significant number of Likudniks will jump ship even after their leader has been indicted. And what of the opinion polls? They are traditionally unreliable. Also, note that Gideon Saar’s campaign to topple Bibi has met only a lukewarm response – don’t look for a tidal wave to sweep Bibi from power.
Stay tuned for the next episode! By the end of next week, maybe we’ll know better if we’re going to yet another election, or whether Likud and Blue and White will form a national unity government.