Israel’s attorney-general displayed courage and integrity in announcing his intention to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust. Avichai Mandelblit went ahead with his announcement on February 28 despite his personal connections with Netanyahu and Netanyahu’s pressure tactics.
Before Netanyahu appointed Mandelblit to his current position, he was Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary, one of his most trusted associates. Mandelblit could have taken the easy way out and waited until after the April 9 general election to drop his bombshell. Instead, he bit the bullet and did the right thing, providing the Israeli electorate with the kind of information they should possess before heading to the polls next month.
As expected, Netanyahu tried to muddy the waters. He denied the accusations, claiming they were politically-motivated and part and parcel of a nefarious left-wing plot to unseat him as he seeks his fourth consecutive term. And he suggested that Mandelblit had behaved weakly in capitulating to the demands of his opponents.
Legally speaking, Netanyahu is under no obligation to resign. But a year or more may elapse before this contentious matter is finally settled. In the meantime, assuming he emerges victorious in the forthcoming election, he will stubbornly cling to power and thereby further tarnish the office he has occupied since 2009.
Netanyahu should step aside, emulating the example set by two of his predecessors.
Yitzhak Rabin resigned during his first term in 1977 after news leaked out that his wife, Leah, had opened an illegal bank account in the United States. And in 2008, Ehud Olmert stepped down before he could be indicted on corruption charges.
Being a survivalist whose primary motivation is self-preservation, Netanyahu intends to stick it out and fight the charges as he campaigns for reelection. But he and his diehard supporters should not be under any illusions that he is indispensable and that Israel will be imperilled by his departure from the scene.
Israel, a nation facing serious internal and external challenges, is in dire need of fresh leadership, as his rival, Benny Gantz, said recently. The last thing Israel needs is a morally and ethically tainted prime minister who has behaved with such a dreadful sense of self-entitlement.
Netanyahu’s determination to stay on come what may could cloud his achievements.
He has improved and stabilized the economy, kept Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas at bay in Syria, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, managed Israel’s key bilateral relationships with the United States, Russia, China and India, restored diplomatic relations with a number of countries in Africa, and established a semblance of ties with Sunni Arab nations like Oman and the United Arab Emirates.
But Netanyahu’s handling of the Palestinian file has been catastrophically short-sighted and wrong-headed. Emboldened by the pro-Israel policies of U.S. President Donald Trump, pressured by his far-right coalition partners and invigorated by his Zionist Revisionist ideological views, he has blatantly backtracked on his pledge to work for an equitable two-state solution, the only realistic and practical method of resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict by peaceful means.
In the process, he has moved Israel toward binational state status, an outcome that would greatly please Hamas, Iran and Hezbollah, among others. The one-state solution, of course, would spell finis to the Zionist dream of a Jewish democratic state.
And now, in the wake of Mandelblit’s announcement, Netanyahu stands accused of abusing his office by virtue of his corrupt dealings with Shaul Elovitch, the chief executive officer of Israel’s largest telecommunications company and the owner of a leading Israeli news website; Arnon Milchan, a Hollywood movie producer; James Packer, an Australian businessman, and Arnon Mozes the publisher of a major Israeli newspaper.
If Mandelblit’s case against Netanyahu holds up, he would be the first sitting Israeli prime minister to be indicted. Once indicted, a disgraced Netanyahu may well face the prospect of imprisonment, a fate he will desperately attempt to avoid.
Netanyahu is fighting for his political life and legacy, confronting what could be the worst crisis of his long career. But he should try to clear his name acting as a private citizen rather than as Israel’s prime minister.
This much he owes his fellow Israelis.