By James Marlow
Anti-Netanyahu demonstrators calling for the Prime Minister to step down amid fraud accusations continues to grow but so does the pro-Netanyahu supporters.
Throughout his political career, Netanyahu has been dogged by scandals that threatened to bring him down.
There was “Bibi-gate” in 1993, at the beginning of his career, when Netanyahu claimed he was being blackmailed by a video of him in a compromising position with a woman (who was not his wife) to get him to drop out of the Likud leadership race. He still won the contest and went on to win the 1996 general election becoming Israel’s youngest ever Prime Minister.
However, when he lost the next election in 1999 to Ehud Barak, there were screaming headlines that Netanyahu and his wife kept state gifts worth some $100,000.
Netanyahu left the political arena but returned to politics in 2002 as Foreign Affairs Minister (2002–2003) and then Finance Minister (2003–2005) in the Likud government led by Ariel Sharon where he engaged in a major reform of the Israeli economy – which was credited by commentators as having significantly improved Israel’s subsequent economic performance.
Although Bibi reluctantly voted for the Gaza disengagement in 2005, he eventually left the government to challenge for the leadership and was successful when Prime Minister Sharon formed the Kadima party which won the December 2006 general election.
As Likud Chairman, Netanyahu won just 12 seats in 2006 but fought off calls to resign, building a solid loyal team around him to come back and win in 2009. After Netanyahu’s victory in the January 2013 election and again in March 2015, Bibi became Prime Minister four times, matching David Ben-Gurion’s record.
But since he returned to power in 2009, there was “Bibi Tours” – allegations that he and his family when abroad were wined and dined on someone else’s money when he was finance minister from 2003 to 2005.
The current scandals involving Netanyahu however are said to be different because of the decision by his former chief of staff, Ari Harow, to turn state’s witness.
No one really knows what Harow will reveal, but the widespread assumption is that he will provide damning evidence in at least one of the three current cases under investigation.
Case 1000 relates to the acceptance of gifts from a very wealthy friend. Case 2000 involves collusion with the newspaper Yediot Aharonot to receive favourable coverage. Case 3000 is connected with the purchase of three submarines from Germany.
The court document recently revealed confirms police were investigating Netanyahu on suspicion of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, in a Channel 2 interview said that the Prime Minister legally does not need to resign at the beginning of the legal process if an indictment is served. But if he is convicted and after the appeals process is exhausted, then according to a dry reading of the law, Shaked said he should resign only at that point.
However, coalition parties are constantly asking themselves today what is politically good for them and what is good for the country. According to polls, the only coalition partner that is likely to increase its seats in a new election is Bayit Yehudi.
But Naftali Bennett has no plans to pull out of the government and force elections because of the trauma of 1992 always in mind when an election was triggered by the right wing to bring down Yitzhak Shamir, only to get Yitzhak Rabin and the Oslo process instead.
UTJ and Shas have no interest in early elections as they hold extremely good positions in this government. Avigdor Liberman of Yisrael Beytenu and Kulanu’s Moshe Kahlon know their poll numbers are not encouraging and do not wish to face the electorate just yet.
Some say that Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert moved to the Left in the last decade so they could stay in power when their own scandals made the media, but Netanyahu will not do the same.
As it stands Netanyahu is the only Prime Minister in Israel’s history to have been elected three times in a row and is currently the second longest-serving Prime Minister in Israel’s history after David Ben-Gurion.
If his current government lasts a full term, he will become the longest-serving Prime Minister in the history of Israel.