(March 1, 2019 / JNS) Israel is shaken and wounded. On Thursday, the country’s top prosecutor, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, with 57 pages of allegations, announced his intention to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, thereby not only undermining a great leader—a key political figure both at home and abroad—but also clearly trying of influencing heavily the outcome of the upcoming general elections to be held on April 9.
Now that the judicial machine has been launched, it is quite realistic to think that Likud’s predominance will suffer a risk in the coming days. According to the polls, it is already expected to lose four Knesset seats, thereby leading to stand off with the opposing force, the Blue and White Party, which was formed last week between Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid. It’s not surprising that the timing of Mandelblit’s decision has people talking about a political putsch.
The chill of the situation—the embarrassment of a country—is also accompanied by overt expressions of satisfaction, even of crazy joy by a broad array of detractors, particularly the world’s media, almost all hostile towards Netanyahu. For years now, they have made Bibi their designated target, and on Thursday, the TV screens were home to scandalous parties of collective satisfaction. In the hours following Mandelblit’s announcement, the delight in which the media networks took in covering has certainly be an event in itself.
Netanyahu faced the harsh reality upon returning from a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, where he obtained a silent assent vis-à-vis Israel’s absolute determination to fight Iran’s presence in Syria. It’s one more achievement in the frame of a glorious foreign policy that has brought the Jewish state to make friends with so much of the world, as well as to overcome the freeze with the United States and have its capital, Jerusalem, become home to the U.S. embassy, and obtain the cancellation of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
Netanyahu had tried to petition Israel’s High Court of Justice in order to postpone the announcement of the attorney general’s decision until after the April 9 elections. But he wasn’t successful.
So now, the accusations concern three cases: Case 1000, in which Netanyahu is accused of having received numerous gifts of champagne and cigars—up to tens of thousands of dollars in gifts—and of having perhaps in exchange undertook actions that favored the donor. Yet apart from a phone call to facilitate the granting of an American visa, it doesn’t seem that any political benefits were given. Case 2000 delves into an apparent quid pro quo deal between the premier and Israel’s Yediot Achronot newspaper. In Case 4000, he is accused of orchestrating a deal that favored the telecommunications company Bezeq while pushing for more favorable coverage from its website Walla.
But there has been neither favorable coverage nor funding, and it’s difficult to see him attempting such a crime. Moreover, name a politician who doesn’t try to obtain favorable coverage from the press; it’s something that happens every day, even part of the politician’s job. Here, even if now the accusations are now very detailed as to episodes, events, meetings, receipts—a real chat for the town—there is no evidence, it seems, of any actual case of corruption. Therefore, the judicial move can only be seen as a political maneuver with intent to back Netanyahu into a corner.
It should take months before Mandelblit’s request is granted, yet it comes just 40 days before the elections. Meanwhile, Israel has a new, even if recurrent, problem. The U.N. Human Rights Council, which the United States left due to its anti-Israel animus (in the past 12 years, among 311 specific resolutions, 76 have been taken against Israel, while only 27 have been posed against Syria!) announced the results of a so-called inquiry—a commission composed of well-known anti-Israeli officials investigating whether Israel has committed war crimes in Gaza.
This after thousands of missiles and hundreds of thousands of demonstrators largely armed or used as human shields by Hamas and Hamas-allied organizers have stormed the Israeli border. Last year, 189 Palestinians—many of who were often armed—were killed during the “March of Return” weekly assaults organized by Hamas along the Gaza-Israel border om Fridays since March 30, 2018. Now, we have again a repetition of the Goldstone Report, which Mandelblit himself picked apart back in 2011, admitting, as is also true today, that the so-called Gazan “civilians” are Hamas militants used in the asymmetric war while dressed in civilian clothing.
It’s one of the problem—one of the real ones—that Israel has to manage while dealing with the attempt to destroy the career of the best Israeli premierships since the days of founding father David Ben-Gurion.
Journalist Fiamma Nirenstein was a member of the Italian Parliament (2008-13), where she served as vice president of the Committee on Foreign Affairs in the Chamber of Deputies, served in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, and established and chaired the Committee for the Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism. A founding member of the international Friends of Israel Initiative, she has written 13 books, including “Israel Is Us” (2009). Currently, she is a fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
Translation by Amy Rosenthal.