ANALYSIS: How Netanyahu's Indictment Could Affect the Israeli Election

Wednesday, March 06, 2019 |  Yochanan Visser

“The reign of King Bibi has gone on long enough,” Bret Stephens, the former editor in chief of The Jerusalem Post and current New York Times columnist wrote in his reaction to the indictment of Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.

The NYT columnist thinks Netanyahu will experience the same fate as former US President Richard Nixon who was impeached due to his role in the Watergate burglary.

Stephens acknowledged that Netanyahu is "a remarkably effective Prime Minister" who has had "considerable success in foreign policy, economy and defense” but apparently is influenced by the Israeli left which has united with only one goal: to get rid of the successful man they’ve hated from time immemorial.

When I recently interviewed some leftwing activists in Tel Aviv they said the Knesset should adopt a law limiting the terms of an Israeli Prime Minister (PM) to two, just like the President of The United States.

Asked why, they said that this was apparently the only way to force Netanyahu, who has now served four terms as PM, out of office. They conveniently forgot that in the U.S. a President cannot be indicted as long as he is still in office.

That was in February when polls showed Netanyahu’s Likud party would again win the parliamentary election on April 9.

But then came the unprecedented decision by Mandelblit, who was under enormous pressure to publish his decision about the indictment of Netanyahu in the cases 1000, 2000 and 4,000 before the election, something that has never happened before in Israel.

Since Mandelblit’s announcement countless politicians, pundits and commentators have reacted to Netanyahu’s indictment while the PM himself addressed the nation the evening after the decision of the AG.

Netanyahu almost burst out in tears when he recalled how the relentless campaign by the left and a large part of the Israeli media had made life miserable for him and his family but also defiantly promised the indictments would “collapse like a house of cards.”

The problem is that the legally mandated hearing with Netanyahu, which will eventually determine whether Mandelblit will press forward with the chargers, will only take place months after the April 9 election. 

Although the polls indicate that the newly formed party Blue and White, a merger of the Yes Atid party of Yair Lapid and the Israel Resilience party of former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Ganz, will win the elections the electorate doesn’t seem to be impressed by the indictments, however.

Likud is steady on 30 or 31 seats and still could form the next government since the right bloc is expected to win more than 61 seats, according to the newest polls.

Polls in Israel aren’t reliable, however, as was shown in the 2015 election when Likud handed an embarrassing defeat to the now disbanded Zionist Union despite a majority of polls predicting a victory for the merger of Labor and the HaTnuah party of former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

The defeat of the Zionist Union was the result of a last-minute action by rightwing social media activists who published a list of tens of major accomplishments by the governments headed by Netanyahu. The social media campaign apparently convinced Israelis the left was lying when it said Netanyahu had achieved nothing during his terms as PM.

The same phenomena could occur now and Netanyahu’s supporters will no doubt use the comments of two respected law experts who made mincemeat of Mandelblit’s indictments and the knowledge Israelis hate meddling in the election.

Professor Avraham Bell, a renowned Israeli expert in the field of law and professor at Bar Ilan University and the University of San Diego, wrote in an article for Tablet Magazine that he thinks Mandelblit’s decision will permanently damage the Israeli law system and "heralds a crisis for Israel’s democracy."

Why?  Because "Mandelblit’s announcement inserts law enforcement officials into the political arena in an unprecedented way, and on a very shaky legal foundation,” according to Bell.

“If the legal theories that the attorney general is introducing against Netanyahu become general law, a considerable part of the democratic life of Israel will have to pass through police interrogation rooms," the law expert added.

“The criminal charges against the prime minister lack legal substance, and they threaten both the rule of law in Israel and the health of its democracy,” Bell wrote while he cited Alan Dershowitz another renowned law expert and a former professor at Harvard Law School.

Dershowitz has already written several articles and open letters to Mandelblit about the same topic: the charges Mandelblit brought against Netanyahu will have "dangerous implications for democracy and freedom of the press," when he decides to press them forward.

“No one should be charged with a crime unless he has willfully crossed a bright line and plainly violated a serious criminal statute. To bring down a duly elected prime minister on the basis of an expansive and unprecedented application of a broad and expandable criminal statute endangers democracy," Dershowitz, a former Obama supporter, wrote in another article.

PM Netanyahu will be charged with ‘breach of trust’ and ‘bribery’.

The Israeli leader has already announced he will bring lots of witnesses who will deliver testimony he is innocent and will contradict the two state witnesses in the cases against him.

As for the election campaign, Netanyahu is now using the slogan “It’s Bibi or Tibi” a reference to the choice the Israeli electorate has to make between a rightwing bloc and a leftwing bloc which includes the Arab Parties and the controversial Arab politician Ahmed Tibi who sees himself as  Palestinian not Israeli.

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