For the first time in Israel’s history, two elections will be held in less than six months. Even though only a few months separate the two rounds, it seems the issue on which the April election focused – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s legal woes – has been almost completely stricken from the agenda of the September election.
It’s as if the three corruption indictments against Netanyahu (pending a hearing) were a piece of clothing that went out of fashion or a pop hit taken off the radio playlist in favor of a newer one.
But nothing has happened to justify a change in the agenda. The official reason for the dissolution of the Knesset last winter was the lack of a majority for a plan to draft yeshiva students following the withdrawal of Yisrael Beiteinu from the governing coalition (the same reason Netanyahu failed to form a government after the April 9 election). But the real reason for the April early election was Netanyahu’s attempt to beat to the punch, or even prevent, the attorney general’s announcement that he intended to indict the prime minister.
Netanyahu’s plan failed. About a month before the April election, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit released a 57-page document detailing the suspicions against Netanyahu. Mendelblit informed Netanyahu that he would stand trial (pending a hearing) on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three cases: the lavish gifts affair (Case 1000) and two cases in which Netanyahu allegedly exchanged favors for positive news coverage (cases 2000 and 4000).
Despite repeated attempts by Netanyahu to postpone the hearing, it’s due to be held about two weeks after the September 17 election. Moreover, Netanyahu has misled the public. When he was asked before the April election whether he planned to promote legislation that would preclude his prosecution, he said he wouldn’t. But coalition talks with his “natural partners” revolved around ministry portfolios and budgets on the one hand and immunity from expected indictment on the other.
Ahead of the upcoming election, the public knows for sure what in the previous election could only be assumed: Netanyahu intends to twist Israeli law to avoid prosecution. A person, any person, is entitled to the presumption of innocence, even if he’s the prime minister. But not everyone wields the influence Netanyahu does over the legislative branch in establishing a government, or has a dubious clutch of public servants willing to become his partners in legislation as does the suspect on Balfour Street.
In light of this, the opposition parties that aim to win the upcoming election must once again put the Netanyahu corruption cases at the top of the public agenda, not make them disappear as if they were yesterday’s news.
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The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.