Replace Netanyahu or Hold Elections

The coalition cannot continue to exist under the cloud of suspicion that hangs over Netanyahu

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen during a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House on  March 5, 2018.

Can the government realistically function when serious allegations are hovering over the person who heads it? The public is persistently getting a negative answer to this question. The past few days have made it very clear: instead of managing the affairs of state, the heads of the coalition parties are busy with endless political maneuvering, as they try to figure out whether they should prepare for snap elections in June, or assume that the government will last out its term until November 2019.

That’s how weighty issues like the military draft bill and the state budget become hostage to narrow interests of political survival. Not only is the Israeli citizen not the top priority of the coalition party leaders, but the citizen himself is forced to wonder about the connection between the conscription of thousands of ultra-Orthodox men and the position of the attorney general in Case 2000 (Yedioth Ahronoth bribery) or between the passing of the budget and the developments in Case 4000 (Bezeq bribery).

Disturbing evidence of this governmental distortion emerged in yesterday’s report by Chaim Levinson that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants the coalition heads to publicly declare that they plan to stay in the government until November 2019. This demand demonstrates the shaky moral foundations of the current coalition; are coalition members meant to continue to support Netanyahu even if he’s indicted, simply because he forced them to do so in time? Netanyahu is exploiting his partners’ lack of interest in elections to force the continuation of his rule, even if it means utterly undermining basic public norms.

The threats coming from some coalition members also expose substandard norms. While Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman is finally weighing the possibility of “going with what we believe in,” Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett doesn’t understand “what happened? A man gets up in the morning and discovers that we want elections? Nothing’s happened that requires us to go through such a mess.” It’s rather puzzling that the man responsible for Israeli children’s education doesn’t view the questioning of the prime minister in corruption cases, followed by a dangerous threat to law enforcement, including the premier’s claim of a conspiracy, as “nothing that requires us to go through such a mess.”

The coalition cannot continue to exist under the cloud of suspicion that hangs over Netanyahu. Every decision will be tainted by questions of how it is linked to the investigations and will not win public confidence. The coalition has only two choices: Replace Netanyahu or go to early elections.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.