Indicting Netanyahu

Indicting Netanyahu
Comment: At the centre of Netanyahu's indictment is his willingness to abuse power and subvert Israel's already iniquitous 'democracy', writes CJ Werleman.
5 min read
03 Apr, 2019
Israel's legislative election is set for 9 April 2019 [Getty]
Benjamin Netanyahu may be Israel's very own Harry Houdini, but where the Hungarian born illusionist and stunt performer thrilled crowds with caged underwater escapes, the Israeli prime minister has stunned pundits time-and-time again, by escaping scandals that would've brought down any of his contemporaries or predecessors.

This time, like Houdini, however, the man affectionately known as "Bibi" by his colonialist devotees, may have participated in one stunt too many, with the country's attorney general announcing he intends to indict Netanyahu on corruption charges. The decision comes just weeks before what promises to be a closely fought national election, marking for the first time a serving Israeli prime minister has been put on official notice of planned prosecution.

Netanyahu is suspected of using the power of the office to enrich himself to the tune of $264,000 worth of gifts, while dispensing favours in an effort to receive favourable coverage by an Israeli newspaper and website. More specifically, that involves helping close associates acquire Bezeq Israeli Telecommunications Corporation in return for positive reporting in its news subsidiary, Walla.

If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison for bribery, fraud, and breach of public trust.

Predictably, however, and like all cornered scoundrels and conmen these days, Netanyahu has dismissed the charges as a "political witch hunt," which is a phrase American audiences have become increasingly familiar with even as more and more of Trump's inner circle are indicted by US Special Counsel Robert Mueller for conspiracy against the United States and other corruption charges.

If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison for bribery, fraud, and breach of public trust

Indeed Netanyahu has survived corruption scandals and charges in the past, with nearly all centering on his willingness to bilk Israeli taxpayers for personal pleasure and comfort, including lavish personal diners, janitorial services at the family's holiday villa in Caesarea to the tune of $2,070 per month. Not forgetting the infamous "Bibi tours," which had him facing charges for accepting private funds for personal trips abroad while he was a member of parliament.

"For 20 years now, embarrassing stories have repeatedly surfaced about the difficulty Netanyahu and his wife have paying anything out of their own pockets, and their consequent habit of billing the state for private expenditures," observes Israeli newspaper, Haaretz.

Netanyahu has enjoyed unbridled support from US president Donald Trump [Getty]

The corruption charges Netanyahu now faces amount to far more than mere embarrassment or low-level corruption charges, however. At the centre of this indictment is his willingness to abuse power and subvert Israel's "democracy".

Whereas previous scandals might have been easily dismissed by a significant share of the Israeli public as "politics as usual," with many viewing the pocketing of perks as part of the political territory, it's highly likely voters will take a dim view to what amounts to an attack on democracy itself by Netanyahu.

A poll taken the day before Israel's attorney general announced his intention to indict the prime minister showed two-thirds of Israelis believe Netanyahu should resign if indicted for corruption, while another found 36 percent believe he should resign now. These figures illuminate just how gravely the public views these charges against him, and the threat his alleged actions pose to the country's supposedly democratic values, mistreatment of the Palestinian people notwithstanding.

The fact the attorney general has now moved forward with the indictment means the evidence against Netanyahu is compelling and strong

Moreover, Netanyahu has built his brand and support upon three pillars: Refusing to negotiate Israeli settlements or the status of Jerusalem, confronting Iran, and boasting of the support his government receives in the United States.

To the last point, sympathy he has enjoyed in the US, particularly among conservative voters, will decline sharply once more Americans become attune to the allegations against him, with a significant majority of US voters expressing deep concern over accusations Trump seized office in part because of electoral misconduct.

Speaking of the equally besieged and scandal ridden US president, Trump offered a flimsy defense of his Israeli counterpart, by arguing "He's tough, he's smart, he's strong," which means nothing to anybody.

Read more: Israel's Netanyahu to meet Russia's Putin days before election

The fact the attorney general has now moved forward with the indictment means the evidence against Netanyahu is compelling and strong, and certainly appears adequate enough to force him to resign, bearing in mind both Ehmut Olmert and Yitzhak Rabin did, respectively, and for lesser crimes.

As for now, the half-dozen parties that constitute Netanyahu's majority government are sticking by their man out of political necessity. If the coalition breaks, or even splinters by a factor of one, it'll never be put back together again.

Ultimately, however, Israeli voters will determine Netanyahu's fate in the immediate term.

Will they vote for a leader who may be criminally charged and sentenced to several years in prison early in his fourth term for subordinating the rule of law, and undermining Israel's already dubious claim to being the Middle East's only democracy? Or will they, instead, see this as a bridge too far?

We may well be about to finally see the back of one of the Middle East's greatest ever conmen.

CJ Werleman is the author of 'Crucifying America', 'God Hates You, Hate Him Back' and 'Koran Curious', and is the host of Foreign Object.

Follow him on Twitter: @cjwerleman

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.