The people vs. Benjamin Netanyahu: 9 things to know for November 22

The people vs. Benjamin Netanyahu: 9 things to know for November 22

Amid scathing criticism and comparisons to Emperor Nero, newspapers say announcement of charges against PM aggravates political deadlock, and agree he won’t go without a fight

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

People watch a statue of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as it falls at Rabin square in Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
People watch a statue of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as it falls at Rabin square in Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

1. Yesterday, Benjamin Netanyahu became the first sitting Israeli prime minister to be charged with criminal wrongdoing, making headlines around the world and throwing the country’s already paralyzed political system into further disarray.

  • The timing couldn’t be worse for Netanyahu, who is desperately trying to remain in power, where he is best able to fight the charges against him.
  • After the attorney general announced that Netanyahu is to stand trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust stemming from three long-running corruption cases, the embattled prime minister angrily lashed out at investigators in a fiery speech Thursday night speech vowing to fight on in the face of an “attempted coup.”

2. His carefully curated image as the king of Israeli politics appears to be fading fast, as increasing numbers of pundits, lawmakers and members of the public stepped up calls for him to step down in the wake of his criminal indictment. On Friday, Israeli pundits said the serious corruption charges are likely to sharpen battle lines in Israel’s already deadlocked political crisis following a second round of elections.

  • “This will not be an election, it will be a civil war without arms,” Channel 12’s Amit Segal writes in Yediot Ahronot newspaper. “There is a broad constituency that believes what Netanyahu said yesterday, but it is far from being enough for anything close to victory.”
  • Not only has the criminal indictment greatly complicated the political situation in Israel, Segal says it will test the loyalty of his right-wing allies, as clinching a Knesset majority will now be near-impossible.
Israeli women hold up signs calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign during a ‘yellow vest’ protest in Tel Aviv on December 22, 2018. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
  • “Netanyahu failed twice in the attempt to form a government. Irrespective of the moral and legal questions, the prime minister’s political situation is painfully clear: His chances of reaching 61 seats are almost non-existent, and accordingly, so are his chances of forming a fifth government.”

3. Writing in the same newspaper, Nahum Barnea says that Netanyahu’s hubris will ultimately be his downfall.

  • “Netanyahu wasn’t born a criminal. Nor can it be said about him that he chose a criminal way of life… He got into trouble,” writes Barnea, one of the leading political commentators in Israel.
  • “It comes down to character: Netanyahu got confused… In his case, the leader’s hubris encountered the victim mentality. This was a fatal encounter.”
  • In one of Friday’s more biting columns, Sima Kadmon compares Netanyahu to the Roman emperor Nero, writing that “he will stand and watch as the country burns… he won’t leave [the PM’s residence] without leaving scorched earth behind.
  • In her Yedioth column, Kadmon slams Netanyahu’s attacks on the judiciary, and his efforts to paint himself as the victim during last night’s speech: “A self-righteous attitude, with the look of a hunted man and speaking with the tone of Mother Theresa…”

4. Haaretz’s editor-in-chief Aluf Benn mostly agrees with Kadmon’s analysis: “To Netanyahu, remaining in office is above everything, and anyone jeopardizing that is a traitor, a saboteur.”

  • “In his eyes, those who dared to investigate and indict him should themselves be investigated, and presumably imprisoned for undermining national security,” Benn writes. “No, Bibi, your story is neither convincing nor credible. You are a victim not of errant policemen and prosecutors, but of your insatiable pursuit of respect.
  • Ultimately, Benn says that Netanyahu gambled his legacy — and ultimately his freedom — on the pursuit of flattering media coverage.
  • “The truth is, it’s sad. And it’s even sadder that Netanyahu is clinging to his job, and is now willing to destroy the institutions of the state to remain in it.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (L) and then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit at the weekly government conference, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on December 13, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

5. Haaretz columnist Chemi Shalev writes in Haaretz Friday that Netanyahu responded to the news of his indictment like a “self-absorbed tyrant” and “common criminal,” and said it was reminiscent of Trump’s approach to his impeachment hearings.

  • “The president’s influence seems to be growing: Netanyahu’s self-victimization is more ludicrous than ever, as is his Trump-style mix of crackpot conspiracy theories; invented, inflated or distorted facts; rumors turned incontrovertible evidence; tall tales aimed at diverting attentions; concocted smears about his accusers and their witnesses, and the like.
  • The paper’s Yossi Verter takes it a step further, saying that Netanyahu’s portrayal of himself as the victim of “Kafkaesque witch hunt” has put the country in “great danger.”
  • “The man whose hands are on the wheel is fighting for his life, and he’s capable of anything,” Verter writes in front-page analysis.
  • After Mandelblit’s announcement, Verter says the usually confident Netanyahu seemed “empty, frightened, desperate. Like some kook who wanders the streets muttering meaninglessly into the air.”
  • Like others, Verter goes on to warn that Netanyahu won’t vacate his office quietly. “To borrow from the world of zoology, Netanyahu is a lame duck on the fast track to becoming a dead horse, but along the way he’ll fight like a wounded lion.”
Supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demonstrate outside PM Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem on November 21, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/FLASH90)

6. In The Times of Israel, David Horovitz says Netanyahu’s handling of his criminal cases is exacerbating internal divisions.

  • “What Israel faces now is weeks, months, maybe years of heightened internal division, of supporters of Netanyahu pitted against opponents, with potential consequences one hesitates even to delineate in writing,” Horovitz writes. “Our country’s national interests, notably including its internal cohesion, take precedence over those of any individual — even its longest-serving prime minister, even a prime minister convinced he is the hapless victim of dark and corrupt forces.”

7. Unsurprisingly, one exception to the harsh criticism of the prime minister in the media is Israel Hayom, the freebie daily that is seen as staunchly pro-Netanyahu.

  • In an apparent effort to delegitimize the attorney general, Israel Hayom’s Akiva Bigman compares the investigation into two of Netanyahu’s aides as reminiscent of the techniques used by the former Soviet Union.
  • Bigman says the charges mean that Mandelblit has established a never seen before legal precedent “that sympathetic coverage is a bribe.” He writes that without the evidence gleaned from aides computers the allegations would amount to “exciting gossip, but not criminal charges.”
  • He concludes that the Netanyahu indictment significantly helped sink public trust in the justice system, which he claimed was already at a “historic low.”
Israeli protesters take part in a demonstration against Netanyahu outside the Tel Aviv Museum on May 25, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

8. Netanyahu isn’t the only one hit with charges from the years-long corruption investigations. Along with prime minister, two of the most powerful media moguls in Israel, ex-Bezeq owner Shaul Elovich and Yedioth publisher Arnon Mozes, will also be indicted for their role in the quid pro quo schemes.

  • In Friday’s paper, Yedioth columnists — Kadmon, Barnea and others — don’t shy away from calling on Mozes to either step down or resign while he fights the charges.

9. On Friday, the Reuters news agency reported that with the prospect of another election all but assured, it will be well into 2020 before a new budget is passed, triggering cutbacks and other austerity measures that could negatively affect economic growth.

  • According to the report, the Central Bank of Israel will lower short-term interest rates next week for the first time in nearly five years in response to a stronger shekel that has helped to push the inflation rate close to zero.
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