Tenth week of election campaign
Attorney General announces Netanyahu’s probable Indictment
The main news of the past week impacting Israeli elections came from Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. On February 28th, he announced his intent to indict Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.1 The Likud had made a last minute unsuccessful effort to convince the Supreme Court to block Mandelblit from announcing his decision before the elections.
A day earlier leading U.S. law professor, Alan Dershowitz, published an open letter in the daily Haaretz. Based on the existing evidence he rejected the legitimacy of all three cases against Netanyahu. Dershowitz summarized his position: “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.”2
The announcement by Mandelblit will be followed by pre-indictment hearings of Netanyahu accompanied by his lawyers after the elections. If after the elections Netanyahu succeeds in remaining prime minister he will have to resign if there is a definitive indictment announcement. If so, this will take place near the end of this year at the earliest.3
Even if the right-wing block obtains a majority in the upcoming Knesset elections, Mandelblit’s announcement may make it more difficult for Netanyahu to form a government. It is possible that in that case the Likud will have to name another candidate to form and head a government.
Blue and White party leader, Benny Gantz, reacted to Mandelblit’s announcement by stating that he will not join a government led by Netanyahu.4 Netanyahu focused his reaction on the timing of the charges. He argued that they were meant to bring down the right and called the accusations a ‘witch hunt.’5
Mandelblit’s announcement involved the justice system in the election campaign. This was a dangerous move. State Attorney Shai Nitzan reacted against the accusations from Likud sources of bias by the prosecutors. Nitzan’s statements may invite further attacks by Likud candidates against the prosecutors in the coming weeks.6
The polls in the first days after Mandelblit’s announcement do not indicate that the Likud is losing votes. Yet the Likud together with its natural partners, the New Right, the Union of Right-Wing Parties, United Torah Judaism, Shas and Kulanu, received 59 seats in the first three polls after the announcement, too few to create a government.
According to these polls, Blue and White and its natural partners, Labor and the extreme left Meretz party will get at most 52 seats.7 However, together with one or two Arab parties, Blue and White would be able to block the Likud from forming a right-wing government. How such a stalemate would be solved — if it were to occur — is highly speculative.
The Blue and White election platform will soon be published. Various articles claim that it will comprise public transportation on Shabbat for cities that want this. It is also expected to include the repeal of the mini-markets law that gives the Interior Minister the power to reject municipal by-laws. This might increase the number of commercial stores open on the Shabbat. It is likely to also contain the enforcement of an existing law that requires all schools to teach at least 11 hours per week of English, mathematics and science with the stipulation that without those subjects schools will not receive state funds.8 This policy greatly antagonizes the ultra-Orthodox parties.
According to a source in Blue and White the platform will also include the implementation of an earlier decision to support the establishment of prayer pavilion for non-Orthodox denominations at the Western Wall. This in order to rehabilitate the relationship with the Diaspora. 9
There were also some reports on the Blue and White diplomatic program. It was claimed that it would support a united Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Israeli control over the Jordan valley and retaining settlement blocks in the West Bank.10 The party would also aim to enter negotiations with the Palestinians. However, the Palestinian Authority may not be interested in negotiating on this basis.
As the election campaign is now mainly seen as a battle between the two leading parties, little attention is given in the media to the statements of other parties and their leaders. In the meantime, allegations of sexual misconduct from over 40 years ago were levelled against Gantz by an alleged victim. Gantz strongly denied these allegations.11
Netanyahu and Gantz have been attacking each other. Gantz called on Netanyahu to show responsibility and resign following Mandelblit’s announcement. He said: “If and when you prove your innocence, you will be able to return to the public arena with your head held high. I expect you to wage your legal battles as a private man and wish you success in that endeavor.”12
In a speech on March 4, Netanyahu said that he withstood eight years of pressure from former U.S. President Barack Obama to make concessions to the Palestinians. He added that in such a situation Gantz and Lapid wouldn’t have lasted 15 minutes. He also criticized the leftist economic policies of Blue and White as well as the inclusion of Histadrut Labor Union leader, Avi Nissenkorn, high on their list.13
These attacks are a foretaste of what can be expected in the coming weeks leading up to the elections on April 9.
7 “Channel 12 Poll: Blue & White 38, Likud 30, Hadash-Taal 9, Labor 8, 2 tied at 7”. Jeremy’s Knesset Insider. 3 March 2019. Retrieved 4 March 2019; Channel 13 (in Hebrew). 1 March 2019.Kan (in Hebrew). 1 March 2019.