Opinion

Once Netanyahu Becomes a Liability, He’s Gone

If Netanyahu is indicted for bribery and leaves the Balfour residence, the Likudniks won’t burn the state down but move on and look for the next king who will help them rule it

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen through the window of a train in Jerusalem, September 20, 2018.
Olivier Fitoussi

Israel Hayom reports that the prime minister threatened Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit that he would be attacked “mercilessly” if he published his decision whether or not to indict Netanyahu before the elections. In one version the threat was attributed directly to the prime minister, in another it was attributed to Likud.

This followed the statement made by coalition chair David Amsalem on Channel 20 that “if someone decides to indict the prime minister, I assume hundreds of thousands of people, millions of people, will rise up and won’t accept it.”

This is similar to what he said a year and a half ago in an interview to Haaretz: “If a government falls because of the gifts story [Case 1000], there’ll be nothing that Mendelblit, [State Prosecutor] Shai Nitzan, the Supreme Court president will be able to do – the right wing public won’t accept it.”

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The story in Israel Hayom about the differing versions of the threat to Mendelblit, which Netanyahu denies being the source of, is not just a journalistic mishap and an attempt to blur it, but a strategy, which is also reflected in Amsalem’s remarks.

Netanyahu is seeking to generate the sense that Likud voters and right-wingers in general won’t accept the attorney general’s decision if it goes against him, and will declare a civil rebellion. He is attempting to create the impression that the rule of law will be sacrificed to preserve his rule of the state. These messages are spread so loudly that many fear we are indeed on the threshold of a civil war.

Perhaps Mendelblit will continue to tarry in handing out indictments until after the election and Netanyahu will win a decisive victory. There is also a chance, although it is diminishing against the iron wall of police and prosecution recommendations, that the charges against Netanyahu won’t include the key word “bribery”.

However, if bribery charges are served on – regardless of the date – Netanyahu will step down from the Israeli political stage and the world will go on turning. He may fight to the end with all his might, and slander the law enforcement officials in an alarming fashion – as could be detected in Israel Hayom’s headline – but that too will do him no good.

The Likud electorate has pragmatic wisdom and a keen sense of smell. It follows whoever can bring it power through fire and water, and flees from anyone who could remove it from power.

A prime minister with a problematic family and a foul cloud of suspicions, alongside a potential conviction, is not an asset but a liability. If Netanyahu is indicted for bribery and leaves the Balfour residence, the Likudniks won’t burn the state down but move on and look for the next king who will help them rule it.

They are not made of the same stuff as Arye Dery’s loyalists when the latter found themselves in a true clash of values with the court that convicted their leader. Nor are they made of the stuff of settlers, who are permitted by their love of the Land of Israel to lie and at times do worse.

The ideological right, incidentally, doesn’t see Netanyahu as a right-wing leader attacked by “leftists” like police chief Roni Alsheich and Mendelblit, as he is trying to portray himself. On a good day the right sees Netanyahu as a useful barricade against the left and territorial withdrawals, and most of the time it despises him for weakness, as recently reflected in what the right sees as the humiliating agreement with Hamas.

The utilitarian pattern can be seen, in reverse, in the ideological right’s fervent enlistment to help Netanyahu. Some of his most ardent followers said about him in the past, before the investigations began, that he was tight fisted, arrogant and intolerable.

When Netanyahu can position himself as an irreplaceable prime minister, they all put aside their personal likes and dislikes and ride on his back for their personal advancement. Once his back is less broad, they will have no difficulty in taking the opposite direction. They will throw him by the wayside without looking back.