Likud to lose 4 seats if Netanyahu indictment announced before elections – poll

Likud to lose 4 seats if Netanyahu indictment announced before elections – poll

Survey shows expected decision by the AG to press charges against PM, pending a hearing, could hit his party hard at the ballot box

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem on December 9, 2018. (Oded Balilty / POOL / AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem on December 9, 2018. (Oded Balilty / POOL / AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud ruling party would lose four Knesset seats in the coming election if the attorney general announces an indictment against him before the April 9 vote, according to a poll released Tuesday.

The survey conducted by Army Radio found that the Likud would drop from a predicted 29 seats, if charges are not announced in any of the corruption cases against Netanyahu, to 25 if charges are announced. The lost Likud votes in the poll appeared to be equally distributed among four other mainstream parties: Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid would each go up from a projected 13 to 14 seats, while Kulanu and Yisrael Beytenu would receive six each and not the five predicted if no indictment announcement were made.

The poll, however, showed that in both scenarios, Netanyahu would still be able to form a coalition, with Likud and its likely partners receiving 61 seats if an indictment were to be announced — a paper-thin majority in the 120-seat Knesset but enough to form a government. If no indictment were announced, the same parties would receive 63 seats in total.

The poll findings come amid efforts by Netanyahu and his Likud acolytes to delay an expected announcement by Attorney General Mandelblit until after the April 9 elections. On Monday, Netanyahu’s lawyers met with Mandelblit to present their arguments for why the AG’s conclusions should not be announced before polling day.

Media reports last week said that Mandelblit had concluded his examination of the evidence in the most severe of the three cases against the prime minister, dubbed by police Case 4000, and is leaning toward pursuing an indictment on bribery charges.

Mandelblit has indicated that he would not delay an announcement of charges, telling Channel 12 news on Sunday that the fact that Israel is holding early elections “is none of my business… It’s not something that affects me.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on July 5, 2015. (Emil Salman/Pool/Flash90)

Netanyahu has argued over the past two weeks that announcing a decision on a possible indictment, pending a hearing, before the national vote would be unfair and akin to “stealing the elections.”

Responding to the poll on Tuesday, senior Likud minister Gilad Erdan said the results proved that announcing an indictment would “skew Israel’s democracy by manipulating voters.” Speaking to Army Radio, the public security minister argued that Israelis already know the allegations against Netanyahu, given that police had published them with their recommendation to indict him, but that voters have not yet had the opportunity to hear “the prime minister’s side of the story.”

Netanyahu has vowed not to step down if Mandelblit announces that he intends to indict him, pending a hearing, in any of the cases against him, asserting that the law does not require him to do so.

Legal officials have anonymously said that this is true, but that Netanyahu would have a “problem” if he sought to stay in office after a formal, final indictment was filed at the completion of a hearing process. Under law and High Court of Justice precedent, ministers other than the prime minister are required to step down in such cases. There is no clear legal rule regarding the prime minister.

Netanyahu has stopped short of directly accusing the attorney general of political bias, but has attacked Mandelbit regarding an “unprecedented” brief interview the AG gave to Hadashot news, and has complained that he has been prevented from confronting his accusers. Other lawmakers in his Likud party have lashed out directly at Mandelblit.

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing and has blamed the investigations against him on a”witch hunt” by the left, the media and the police, whom he claims are relentlessly pressuring Mandelblit to prosecute him.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan speaks at a ceremony for a new municipal police station in Beit Shemesh, January 7, 2019. (Yaakov Lederman/Flash90)

The Tuesday poll found that 55 percent of the public think Netanyahu is wrong to criticize Mandelblit while 27% described the attacks as “justified.”

In Case 4000. Netanyahu is suspected of having advanced regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister from 2015 to 2017 that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq, the country’s largest telecommunications firm, in exchange for positive coverage from Elovitch’s Walla news site.

The second investigation, Case 2000, involves a similar suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes.

In the third, Case 1000, Netanyahu is suspected of receiving benefits and gifts worth about NIS 1 million ($282,000) from billionaire benefactors, including Israeli Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, in exchange for assistance on various issues. Some reports have suggested that Mandelblit is leaning toward a charge of breach of trust in this case.

Tuesday’s poll, carried out by the Midgam polling organization headed by Mina Tzemach and Mano Geva, sought the opinions of 1,007 respondents representing a cross-section of Israelis over 18 and had a margin of error of 3.1%.

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