The decision of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to charge Prime Minister Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, pending a hearing, could very well determine the outcome of the coming election.
For his part, Netanyahu wants the public to believe that he is the victim of a politically-motivated witch hunt that managed to bring enough pressure to bear to push the attorney general to publish a premature decision. What Netanyahu says amounts to a one-sided criminal charge plays unfairly into the hands of his political rivals.
Following Mandelblit's announcement, Netanyahu nearly broke into tears as he spoke about the way his wife and son have been treated by the media. He also repeated his absolute confidence in his innocence. "I am telling you, citizens of Israel," Netanyahu said, "this entire house of cards will collapse. I am absolutely certain of it. I am 4,000 percent sure."
The response was a play on words referencing Case 4000, one of several bribery investigations targeting the prime minister, and the one in which Mandelblit believes Netanyahu to be most guilty. According to the charges, Netanyahu intervened in regulatory procedures to the benefit of Israeli tycoon Shaul Elovitch, who stood to gain some $500 million in exchange for positive media coverage of the prime minister by the Walla! news portal. The deal never went through, but if Netanyahu did negotiate such an exchange, then this is a very serious case, indeed.
Netanyahu's people insist that the charges are nothing more than an undemocratic effort to overthrow Israel's duly-elected leader, and therefore a threat to Israeli democracy. But these warnings seem to be falling on deaf ears.
A Channel 12 News survey published after Mandelblit's announcement revealed that for the first time in the run-up to the April 9 national election, the left-wing bloc has a very real chance to prevail over Netanyahu's Likud and its right-wing partners.
As of this morning, the center-left "Blue and White" faction led by Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid is predicted to win 38 seats in the next Knesset. Likud remains steady with 30 seats. This shift has created near-parity between the left and right-wing blocs, with both hovering around a slim 61-seat majority in the Israeli parliament. In other words, as things stand now, the outcome of the upcoming election is going to be decided by a marginal two seats on either side. And that means that regardless of which side wins, Israel will remain deeply divided.
This division will be particularly pronounced with Blue and White is tapped to form the next government, with Gantz and Lapid rotating as prime minister. Such an outcome will no doubt spark a relentless right-wing campaign accusing the left of being undemocratic, and therefore illegitimate, with tone that could echo the anti-Trump movement in the US.