Herzog Associates Would Back ex-Likud Lawmaker as PM if Netanyahu Forced to Resign

The Israeli media will not go back to being what they were prior to this week. The same probably holds true for Israeli politics.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) and Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon.
Olivier Fitoussi

At the end of one of the stormiest weeks ever in the Israeli world of big money, power and media, the Knesset was rife with talk about the slim chance of an alternative government. Zionist Union MKs close to the party’s leader, MK Isaac Herzog, have suggested Kulanu leader and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon as prime minister.

“With me, ego isn’t a problem,” Herzog said on Wednesday. “It wasn’t a problem before the elections and it isn’t one now.” An alternative government, in contrast to elections, could be a life raft for Herzog’s political career.

The so-called Israel Hayom bill, intended to stop the free distribution of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s private propaganda tool, led to the dismantling of Netanyahu’s third government exactly two years ago. The latest reports indicate that the current government may also end its days prematurely, indirectly because of the same now defunct bill.

If an indictment could be filed against Netanyahu for taking bribes or breach of trust or conspiracy – in addition to accepting gifts from movie producer Arnon Milchan – he would be forced to resign and his government would fall apart.

That would be Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes’ dream come true. But it is doubtful whether he would be able to celebrate his victory. The two bitter enemies, who have been battling each other relentlessly from the beginning of the decade, could fall into the abyss together.

The affair has stunned the politicians. For many MKs and ministers, Mozes and his newspaper and website are a kind of home away from home. There they feel safe, protected, even pampered.

Only two MKs out of 120 had the courage on Wednesday to slam an apologetic essay published by senior Yedioth Ahronoth columnist Nahum Barnea. Meretz leader Zehava Galon disclosed how she had been obliterated from the newspaper’s pages after daring to vote against the Israel Hayom bill. Zionist Union MK Miki Rosenthal recounted what had been going on in that newspaper when he worked there as a senior editor. He spoke of white and black lists, about favors and reprisals.

The blitz of reports on the two investigations against Netanyahu – dubbed case 1000 and case 2000 – is affecting the political arena profoundly. Netanyahu acted as one who feels the earth shaking under his feet. On Wednesday he invited himself to a marginal Likud secretariat meeting to indicate to the potential rebels in his party that he was still there. His people played the energizing Likud election jingle and enlisted activists to applaud him.

The Israeli media – and most certainly Yedioth Ahronoth – will not go back to being what they were prior to this week. The same probably holds true for Israeli politics.

A run of exposés in Haaretz and on Channel 2 News, showing how Netanyahu and Mozes discussed dividing the national spoils between them, has cast a glaring spotlight on the prime minister’s uncontrollable obsession with the media. This fixation has derailed the entire media and political establishments.

It was the Israel Hayom bill that brought an end to Netanyahu’s third government in 2015. The latest reports, which once again involve Israel Hayom, could mean that his current government may also end its days prematurely.