Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly looking into the possibility of resuscitating a plan to postpone the presidential elections — and possibly abolish the presidency altogether — following the withdrawal of embattled Labor MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer from an already scandal-laden race.
Netanyahu started putting out feelers to members of his coalition Friday after allegations of financial impropriety by Ben-Eliezer first emerged, according to Ma’ariv. If Netanyahu could garner the support necessary to pass such a drastic bill through the Knesset, he would have to push through a postponement of Tuesday’s presidential elections on Sunday in order to get the parliament to vote it through three readings on Monday.
However, Netanyahu already considered this move last month and was roundly rebuffed by coalition members, and public statements on Saturday by senior Likud officials seemed to indicate that their position has not changed.
Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said that despite the unfortunate circumstances, elections must not be postponed, according to Israel Radio.
And Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar called Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to urge him to continue with the poll as scheduled, according to Israel National News.
“Any attempt to delay the election will only increase the harm to the Knesset, the presidency and Israeli democracy,” he said.
On the other side of the spectrum, though, Kadima MKs Shaul Mofaz and Yisrael Hasson called for Edelstein to postpone the elections.
Mofaz also said that the public elections should replace the current Knesset voting model for choosing the president.
Netanyahu has put his support behind presidential favorite Likud MK Reuven Rivlin, but he reportedly sought to abolish the position in the first place at least partially because he did not want to back any of the candidates.
Meretz leader Zahava Gal-On said Saturday that her party will back former judge Dalia Dorner.
Ben-Eliezer, a former IDF general and defense minister, announced he was withdrawing from the presidential race Saturday afternoon, less than 24 hours after police questioned him for nearly five hours, under caution, on suspicion that he illegally received millions of shekels from various sources, using some of the money to purchase his luxury apartment home in Jaffa, and only three days before the actual elections.
Police were also investigating a separate $350,000 payment from a relative, and alleged improprieties relating to other large sums of money.
The Lahav 433 special investigative unit postponed its scheduled second session of questioning of Ben-Eliezer following a request from his lawyer and in light of his withdrawal from the race. The investigation had been set to resume Saturday evening.
Ben-Eliezer wrote on his Facebook page Saturday that he was quitting the race with a “very heavy heart,” criticizing the “slanderous smear campaign” he says was waged against him from the moment he announced his candidacy for the post. He continued to maintain his innocence.
A number of Israeli politicians and presidential candidates expressed their empathy for Ben-Eliezer and lamented the cloud of scandal that has hung over the race thus far.
Edelstein suggested Saturday evening that there was a “guiding hand” to all the emerging scandals surrounding presidential candidates.
Edelstein told Channel 10 Saturday it was impossible that prominent politicians, who have served at the highest levels of government over the last 30 years, could coincidentally be facing a rash of allegations precisely as the presidential race gathered pace.
“It would be naive to think that just in the last three weeks all these troubles befell them,” he said.
Last month, Energy Minister Silvan Shalom chose not to run for the presidency after allegations of sexual impropriety surfaced; the allegations were not substantiated.