Israel’s longest serving prime minister under indictment

Israel’s longest serving prime minister under indictment

Netanyahu has held the top job longer than any one else in the Jewish state’s history. But his legal woes now threaten to ruin any legacy he may have built up

Raoul Wootliff

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, on July 24, 2013. (FLASH90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, on July 24, 2013. (FLASH90)

The son of a Jewish historian, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu often portrays himself — and his country — in historical terms.

He laces his speeches with references to Jewish history, tales of Jewish heroism and warnings that sinister enemies lurk around every corner. The main target of his diatribes, Iran, is often compared to biblical enemies and even the Nazis.

And so, when Netanyahu in July overtook David Ben Gurion — Israel’s first prime minister — as the country’s longest serving premier, considerable debate erupted over the historical legacy of the man who had now held the top job longer than anyone else in the modern Jewish state’s short history.

As reflected in the myriad opinions pieces and analyses published at the time, Netanyahu’s legacy will undoubtedly be a mixed one — but as of Thursday, any honest account of his significance as premier will also be drastically impacted by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s decision to charge him in three separate criminal cases, making him Israel’s first prime minister to be indicted while in office.

Protesters outside the Prime Minister’s Residence hold a sign reading “Crime Minister’ as police investigators arrive to question Benjamin Netanyahu, July 10, 2018.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

When Ehud Olmert — whose legacy includes being the first former Israeli prime minister to have gone to prison — first faced criminal allegations in 2008, Netanyahu declared that “a premier up to his neck in criminal investigations does not have a moral mandate to continue serving as prime minister.”

Olmert resigned before he was indicted.

Had Netanyahu heeded his own warning, he could have left the official residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem with a prime ministerial record that may have been disputed but would have been legally clean.

He would not have been the longest serving prime minster in Israel’s history, but he would also not have been its longest serving prime minister under indictment.

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