Bibi to be indicted

Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: EPA/Jim Hollander

BENJAMIN Netanyahu is fighting for his political survival, in the throes of his biggest crisis since he came to power, after Israel’s top lawyer announced plans to indict him.

There is one month until Israel’s election, and the Prime Minister is struggling in polls, grappling with scandal, and facing a cacophony of calls to quit.

“Netanyahu, resign,” said Labour leader Avi Gabbay. “Put an end to national shame and do not conduct a battle from the Prime Minister’s residence. Netanyahu embarrasses the State of Israel.”

When the attorney general Avichai Mandelblit announced that he plans to prosecute in three corruption cases, it was just one week after another Netanyahu nightmare came true.

His two biggest rivals, Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, signed a unity deal to create a single centrist party, Blue and White. Netanyahu’s long-time lead in opinion polls vanished — and since the indictment announcement the Gantz-Lapid alliance has strengthened its lead.

Polls say it is now poised win around 36 seats while Netanyahu’s Likud stands at around 28 seats. A survey by broadcaster Kan found that 41 per cent of Israelis think Gantz is best suited to lead Israel.

It gives Gantz only a one per cent lead over Netanyahu — but this marks a major shift as Netanyahu has been the clear choice for years — and always by a significant margin.

The same Kan poll found that around one in five Israelis thinks Netanyahu should stay in office if he’s put on trial.

People were asked what Netanyahu should do and the most popular answer, from 36 per cent of respondents was that he should resign now. Another 32 per cent said that he should resign if the indictment is made final. Just 23 per cent thought he should stay on.

Over the last few days the Gantz-Lapid alliance has gone in to full throttle promoting calls for resignation now. The PM said that his legal woes result from a left-wing conspiracy to oust him from power, and refuses to resign. According to Blue and White, his decision shows that he is putting his career before the good of the country.

Israel will lose out if Netanyahu is fighting a court case and Israel ends up with a “part-time Prime Minister,” said Gantz, calling the refusal to resign “unbefitting a prime minister of Israel.” He said, “Instead of choosing the good of the country you chose your own well-being.”

Gantz promised, “There is a different leadership in Israel. A patriotic leadership that puts Israel before everything.”

Lapid, also calling for a resignation, said, “It can’t be that every prime minister and president that meets him will know that they’re not talking to the Prime Minister of Israel but to a suspect in a serious bribery case whose time in office is limited. It doesn’t do Israel justice in the world.”

Blue and White has pointed out that when Ehud Olmert was deep in his legal woes, Netanyahu called him a “prime minister sunk up to his neck in investigations” and argued that such a leader “has no moral or public mandate to make fateful decisions for Israel”.

Netanyahu says that this wasn’t a call for resignation but rather a call for him to avoid big foreign policy steps.

The PM says that he has done nothing wrong, and accused Israel’s legal establishment of being out to get him because he is a right-winger.

He said in a speech: “The left knows that they can’t defeat us at the ballot boxes … and that’s why for three years they’ve been engaged in political persecution against us.”

He claimed that the left mounted a “thuggish, incessant campaign of pressure” on the Attorney-General, resulting in the plan to prosecute. The “timing is scandalous,” he said.

Netanyahu’s opponents derided him, noting that he chose the timing of the election knowing that a likely indictment announcement was nearing, and that the Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit was actually appointed by him — after a three-year stint as his cabinet secretary.

After the latest developments Netanyahu is not just losing in the polling figures for each party, but also in the all-important statistics for “blocs.”

In Israel, the government is formed by the politician with the best chance of cobbling together a coalition. This is normally the leader of the largest party — but not always.

If Blue and White win more seats than Likud but can’t find partners to secure a majority in Knesset — a possibility as several right-wing parties say they will refuse to serve under Gantz — it could lose the chance to form a government. This is what happened to the centrist Kadima in 2009.

However, polling indicates that reaction to the indictment announcement has prompted the shift in public opinion that could enable Blue and White to build a government.

Eran Vigoda-Gadot, political scientist at the University of Haifa, told The AJN that the race between the blocs is suddenly very close, and will stay that way until poling day.

“The blocs will be quite equal on each side and two or three mandates will determine the nature of the next government,” he said.

NATHAN JEFFAY