The leader of the opposition could not have been clearer in his interview on Israel’s Channel 2 television news. Calling for the resignation of the prime minister, he stated:
“We are dealing with a prime minister who is up to his neck in criminal cases that can’t separate his personal problems from the interests of the country.”
That was in 2008. The prime minister was Ehud Olmert; the leader of the opposition? One Benjamin Netanyahu.
Bibi was right then. And the same applies now, to a even greater extent.
Olmert resigned before he was even indicted; and the charges against him were less serious than those facing Netanyahu. Today’s Israeli prime minister needs to step down not only because it is unprecedented and ethically dubious to have an indicted criminal suspect as PM, but because it’s been clear for a while now that Bibi is no longer willing (or perhaps not even humanly able) to put the country’s needs ahead of his own. His borderline racist campaigns against Israeli Arabs in the last three elections and his willingness to allow aides to smear and incite against political opponents has threatened the delicate fabric of Israeli society. He sunk to a new low in his encouragement and endorsement of Kahanists in the run-up to the April election. His demagogic, Trump-channeling speech last night in response to the indictments was fantastically disingenuous. (He implied, for example, that the timing of the Attorney General’s announcements was designed to harm him when in fact he has benefited hugely from Avichai Mandelblit’s decision not to make this indictment announcement until the day after Benny Gantz’s window of opportunity to form a government closed.)
Predictably, his ‘performance’ was designed to invoke fears of a Deep State; a left-wing judicial establishment out to overthrow the elected prime minister. And we have reason to fear the success of this kind of incitement, not least because he is aided by far more extreme figures like Bezalel Smotrich, who Netanyahu has insisted is an integral part of his right-wing bloc. (A further indication of Bibi’s descent into unprincipled opportunism; the Likud of yesteryear – including under earlier incarnations of Netanyahu – would never have become so hermetically connected to the racist far-right.) Smotrich has already called on “the people of Israel” to “take to the streets” to prevent this coup “by a destructive, violent and dangerous legal dictatorship”.
Notwithstanding the fact that anti-Supreme Court propaganda hugely overstates both the extent of its judicial activism and its alleged “leftist” bias, the ultimate decision to indict was made by Attorney General Mandelblit not by Aharon Barak.
Mandelblit is a public servant whose personal integrity went unquestioned by all sides throughout his time with the IDF, as Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary and as AG – until he made an enemy of the right by doing his job and taking seriously the accusations against the prime minister. He was twice appointed by Netanyahu and grew up as a member of the Beitar youth movement. The attempts to pant him as a leftist stooge are risible.
Israel desperately needs to move to a post-Bibi era. Even those of us who never voted for him have reason to be grateful for many of his achievements in office; but whether you’re hoping to see Gantz replace him, or you want a Likudnik like Gideon Sa’ar, this is surely now the moment we should all be saying bye-bye to Bibi.