Corrupt Netanyahu in the twilight zone of power
It would be difficult to blame those who don’t closely follow Israeli politics for losing track of the number and nature of the many corruption allegations against Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife Sarah. Their official residence has had almost as many visits from police investigators as from foreign dignitaries.
In all five corruption affairs involving the Netanyahus, together or separately, the police have recommended charges, and in one instance the prime minister’s wife has already been indicted.
Regardless of the outcome of these cases, this is a prime minister who is morally corrupt and debilitated by police investigations that he has brought upon himself by his hedonism, greed and paranoiac relations with the media.
It is inconceivable that there will not be mounting pressure on him to resign. Even if he does not do so immediately, the state of Israel is witnessing the twilight zone of one the most controversial leaders in its short history.
Make no mistake, Netanyahu’s remaining in office is a scenario more dangerous than ever. A prime minister who is also in charge of four other ministries, including the most powerful and influential ones of defense and foreign affairs, while fighting for both his political life and to avoid spending considerable time behind bars, is a dangerous recipe. His default modus operandi is one of cynical exploitation of domestic divisions and conflict with Israel’s neighbors in order to stay in power.
Fighting for his personal survival will only increase these destructive traits. Hardly anyone in Israeli politics can match his recklessness in sowing rupture and hatred within Israeli society and discord abroad, in order to reap the political benefits.
The combination of Israel’s volatile borders with Gaza and Lebanon, together with an equally volatile prime minister, could be lethal.
A timely removal of Netanyahu from office is no longer an issue solely of ethics, or even of good governance, but of preventing the country being led into some disastrous episode of adventurism beyond its borders.
Politicians, like all of us, are entitled to the presumption of innocence. Yet the case for demanding the prime minister’s immediate resignation is that in at least in two of the affairs they are embroiled in, the Netanyahus are not contesting the gist of the allegations, but simply whether they broke the law.
What we see here is a family that treats the country as its private fiefdom in order to satisfy its whims.
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s default modus operandi is one of cynical exploitation of domestic divisions and conflict with Israel’s neighbors in order to stay in power.
Netanyahu has for many years been the Houdini of Israeli politics, deflecting all criticism and allegations of corruption by presenting himself as the defender of the Jewish state from its enemies at home and abroad. While this strategy has had some success, his (and his wife’s) personal greed and limitless thirst for unlimited, unending power must surely be his downfall.
He has survived for so long because of his ruthlessness in removing any potential successors to the leadership of his ruling Likud party, and outmaneuvering all his rivals, whether from the left or the right. No other party or leadership contender has been able to present a convincing alternative platform, or counter his ability to manipulate the media and public opinion so effectively and for such a long time.
As with most leaders who have been so long — too long — at the helm, Netanyahu is banking on a fear of the unknown once he has gone.
In his efforts to avert an indictment, and even worse, a conviction, he is doing his best to discredit and weaken the legal system by assaulting the integrity of the police, including the officer he hand picked as someone who would go soft on his wrongdoing.
He constantly acts the victim of the media and the police; and nor will the attorney general, should he decide to indict Netanyahu, be spared from these acidic verbal attacks.
No matter whether Netanyahu is indicted, tried and convicted, Israel faces months of uncertainty under a prime minister who will stop at nothing to avoid justice being done and seen to be done. In his desperation he may attempt to pull another trump card from his sleeve by calling for early elections in the hope of receiving a further mandate.
He may even try to persuade potential members of his coalition government to support a law that would protect a prime minister from being tried while in office. This would be corrupt indeed, but his defense would be that the people had had their say and elected him knowing the accusations against him. They entrusted me with the destiny of the country, he might say, and no indictment, as severe as it might be, should be able to reverse a decision taken by the people.
With his three lines of defense — “I am innocent, I am a victim” and the somewhat contradictory “I am the defender of the Jewish state from its sworn enemies and therefore I am entitled to be morally flexible and ethically imperfect” — the prime minister believes he can survive to fight another day.
It would be naïve to expect the Netanyahus to leave with any dignity, let alone accept that the good of the country and the preservation of its democratic institutions, including the legal system, the police and the media, requires the prime minister’s resignation.
If anything, we should brace ourselves for exactly the opposite, recalling how Samson brought destruction on the Philistines. Nevertheless, like every would-be Houdini, Netanyahu will eventually encounter a political padlock too far, one that even a battery of expensive lawyers will be unable to open.
- Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations at Regent’s University London, where he is head of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program. He is also an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He is a regular contributor to the international written and electronic media. Twitter: @YMekelberg