In Netanyahu’s Israel, checks and balances are irrelevant or corrupt, accountability is conspiracy, and a watchdog media is a national saboteur. Tough times are ahead.
There has been no shortage of people who were thrilled by the announcement Tuesday night that Israeli police recommend indicting Benjamin Netanyahu in two corruption cases. A Haaretz headline crowed that “Netanyahu’s countdown has begun.” Opposition figures such as Labor chairman Avi Gabbay said, “the Netanyahu era has ended.”
But in Netanyahu’s defiant speech moments following the publication of the police recommendations, he insisted that his government would last its full term — through November 2019.
Netanyahu’s total dismissal of the idea of resigning — which he hardly seemed to consider long enough to reject it — is only one of the deep offenses to democracy that investigations have come to represent. What should be an enviable display of independent law enforcement agencies holding public representatives accountable, is turning into a showcase — and possibly a harbinger — of the erosion of democratic norms in Israel.
The immediate response of Netanyahu and his cronies throughout the investigation process is the outstanding example. In the lead-up to and immediate following the police recommendation to indict, their messaging went into overdrive, with eerily carbon-copy themes. David Amsalem, the current head of the coalition who replaced David Bitan, himself now under a corruption investigation, responded with a screed calling the police investigation “illegitimate in a democracy,” accusing the police of a political coup, and calling their investigation “chutzpah” – a severe accusation in Hebrew. Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, quoted in Ynet, said: “Tonight has exposed a deplorable move to enact a coup, against the wishes of the voter. It is disgraceful that the main witness against Netanyahu is [politician] Yair Lapid, who has been trying to replace him for years.”
The notion that the investigation is little more than political persecution has been repeated so steadily by Likud figures that the Israeli media began hunting for a “message box,” to determine if there was a campaign-like decision about the message. As a political consultant in my day job, I’ll speculate an obvious yes.
Further, the investigation has become a confusing fiasco of accusations and counter accusations. In the week before the announcement, Police Chief Roni Alsheikh – hand-picked by Netanyahu himself – implied that the police’s anti-corruption unit had come under pressure from private investigators...Read More