For the first time since the police began investigating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over a year ago, and since announcing last month there was sufficient evidence to charge him with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in the lavish gifts and the Yedioth Ahronoth quid-pro-quo cases, someone has finally broken the governing coalition’s silence. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said Thursday that Netanyahu cannot remain in office if indicted.
In an interview with Israel Television News, Kahlon said his Kulanu party won’t stay in a government led by Netanyahu in the event of a trial. “The law says the attorney general decides whether to press charges,” he said. “Once the process has run its course, if the attorney general announces that he’s decided to indict the prime minister, [Netanyahu] can’t continue serving as prime minister while under indictment.”
Kahlon thereby completed what in retrospect was revealed as a two-stage process. In the first stage, he managed to resolve the crisis over a new conscription law and pass the state budget, thereby avoiding playing into the hands of the prime minister, who wanted to dismantle the government and call early elections in June. In the second stage, he made it clear that passage of the 2019 state budget should not be seen as a commitment on his part to remain in the government until its term ends in November 2019. Rather, his continued tenure is directly dependent on the attorney general’s decision on whether to indict Netanyahu.
Kahlon’s statement is important because it finally draws a red line. The investigations into Netanyahu cast a heavy shadow over all the government’s moves, not just those of the prime minister. The mood blowing from the Knesset is cynical and devoid of any standards. A question mark hangs over every step and every decision.
The conscription crisis is a perfect example of the warped situation in which the Knesset and the cabinet have been trapped by the criminal suspicions and investigations. Who ever heard of a prime minister seeking to bring down the government he heads (in order to move up the election to June, so that they’d take place before the attorney general decides on his cases) while members of his coalition cooperate with opposition parties to prevent it from falling? This is an intolerable state of affairs, which badly damages the public’s faith in its representatives and in the institutions of government.
With his eminently proper statement, Kahlon made it clear that neither Netanyahu nor the public should conclude from the budget’s approval that he will support Netanyahu at any price. Unlike others, Kahlon evidently isn’t afraid of elections and isn’t worried only about his own job.
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If we can’t expect the opposition to topple this terrible government, it’s a good thing there’s at least one senior minister who has made it clear that if Netanyahu is indicted, he will put an end to the farce of Netanyahu’s government. All we can do is quote the prime minister himself and urge the other members of Knesset to “be Kahlons.”
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.