All three TV exit polls broadcast Monday night showed a decisive victory for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a searing loss for Kahol Lavan, headed by former Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, and the entire center-left bloc. According to the exit polls, Likud beat Kahol Lavan by three to five seats, and the rightist bloc clocked in at 59 seats.
But it isn’t just the center-left that lost on Monday. A victory for defendant Netanyahu is a defeat for the rule of law, and for every Israeli who wants to live in a democratic country governed by law, in which nobody is above the law. This is a black day for everyone who sought to put the nightmare of Netanyahu’s years in power, which were characterized by incitement, division and racism, behind us.
Bibi went gunning for his only real rival
In contrast to the previous two elections, which took place when the prime minister was still only suspected of crimes, Netanyahu ran in Monday’s Knesset election – the third of the past year – as a person indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases. This means that millions of Israelis voted for a candidate charged with committing felonies. Consequently, Monday’s election must be seen as a vote of no-confidence in the legal system, the police, the prosecution and the attorney general.
This is an unprecedented situation. The Jerusalem District Court has scheduled the opening of Netanyahu’s trial for March 17, just two weeks away. But since he withdrew the request for immunity from prosecution that he submitted to the last Knesset, Netanyahu can’t submit another request for immunity in these cases.
Experience teaches that his first goal will be to halt the legal proceedings against him. His natural partners, the rightist and religious parties, which are interested in altering the balance of power among the three branches of government by reining in the High Court of Justice and abolishing the power and independence of the Attorney General’s Office, won’t stop him. On the contrary, they will almost certainly cooperate with any legal and political maneuver Netanyahu requests, including passing legislation to let the Knesset override the High Court, which would effectively prevent the court from overturning unconstitutional laws. This means Israel is sliding down a very steep slope.
This is a project that goes beyond protecting a prime minister charged with crimes. The Israeli right is interested in what Naftali Bennett, chairman of the Yamina party, on Monday termed a “sovereignty government,” which would annex territory in violation of international law, steal Palestinian land and establish a de facto apartheid regime. For this reason, the election results can’t be seen as a random coincidence: To carry out a corrupt policy, you need a corrupt prime minister.
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Now Netanyahu will turn his efforts to luring “defectors” from the rival bloc, to make it possible for him to form a government. We can only hope that none of them will give in to his enticements, and thereby officially turn Israel into a country that has abandoned all its values.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.