Nov 22, 2019

Netanyahu's fight for survival: "Witch hunt" claims and a stain on his legacy

Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Amir Levy/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has denounced the corruption indictments leveled against him Thursday as an “attempted coup” and a witch hunt. He’s vowing to stay put, and planning a public campaign against the attorney general, state prosecutors and the police.

Driving the news: Thursday's announcement from Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, though long-anticipated, was a political earthquake. The indictments for bribery, fraud and breach of trust made Netanyahu the first Israeli prime minister to face criminal charges.

  • Netanyahu stands accused of giving Israel's leading telecommunications tycoon regulatory benefits worth hundreds of millions of dollars in return for favorable news coverage.
  • He’s also accused of taking improper gifts from businessmen and bribing the owner of Israel’s largest newspaper.

On the scene: Netanyahu’s political rivals, including Benny Gantz, called on him to resign. His right-wing political allies praised his work for the country and stressed that he is innocent until proven guilty — but they didn’t say anything about political next steps.

  • Most of the senior ministers of Netanyahu’s Likud party refrained from appearing on TV or even issuing statements of support for hours. When they finally did, their comments sounded more like eulogies.
  • Some senior Likud members briefed reporters anonymously that “it seems like the Netanyahu era is over and it is just a matter of time before he leaves.”

But, but, but: Netanyahu's top priority is to quell any dissent within the party ranks, and he still plans to lead Likud into Israel’s third election in the span of a year.

  • That election is expected primarily because the allegations against Netanyahu have deadlocked Israeli politics.
  • Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White party, failed this week to form a government to oust Netanyahu.
  • A national unity government involving both leaders appears impossible given the charges against Netanyahu. Without a deal in the next three weeks a new election will be called.
  • Even if Netanyahu manages to win, it’s unclear whether he would receive a mandate to govern given the charges against him.

The big picture: Regardless of what happens next, today clearly dealt Israel’s longest-serving prime minister a devastating blow.

  • Netanyahu, the son of a historian and someone who sees himself as on a historical mission, now has an unmistakable stain on his legacy.

Zoom out: Netanyahu has been arguably President Trump's closest international ally. In Washington, many Democrats drew parallels between the indictments and Trump’s impeachment process.

“Netanyahu is accused of accepting bribes, trading government favors, and manipulating a free press. Like his pal Donald Trump, he'll stop at nothing to enrich himself and stay in power."
— Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Twitter

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Netanyahu indicted for corruption, denounces "attempted coup"

Photo: Amir Levy/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been indicted in all three corruption cases against him — for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He has claimed the indictments are "an attempted coup" to topple him and his right-wing government.

Why it matters: This is the first time in Israeli history that a sitting prime minister has faced criminal charges. Israel's attorney general sent the indictments to Netanyahu's lawyers and to the speaker of the Knesset — Israel's parliament — in order to begin the process of stripping him of his parliamentary immunity, the Justice Ministry said in a statement.

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Decision imminent on Netanyahu corruption indictments

Photo: Amir Levy/Getty Images

Israeli attorney general Avichai Mandelblit will announce his decisions on potential indictments against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in three corruption cases during a press conference in Jerusalem at 19:30 local time (12:30 EST)

Why it matters: The looming indictments have plunged Israel into a political deadlock following an inconclusive election two months ago. Netanyahu and Benny Gantz both failed to form coalitions, and a proposed national unity government has been blocked because Gantz refuses to serve under a prime minister facing corruption charges and Netanyahu refuses to step aside as prime minister because the indictments threaten his political survival.

Go deeperArrowNov 21, 2019

Israel heads for third elections with Netanyahu weakened by indictments

Netanyahu (2nd from right) at a meeting of right-wing parties. Photo: Amir Levy/Getty Images

Israel's political drama is entering yet another unprecedented stage. The Knesset, Israel's parliament, dissolved itself tonight, and the third election in under a year was set for March.

Why it matters: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing three corruption indictments, and the March election could be his last. Netanyahu and his top rival, Benny Gantz, both failed to form a government during 80 days of negotiations following September's vote.

Go deeperArrowDec 11, 2019 - World