Opinion: Netanyahu – Israeli Prime Minister or ‘Crime Minister’? – By CGTN

Guest Commentary by Wang Jin

2018-02-24 12:56 GMT+8

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is facing tremendous pressure from an ongoing corruption investigation. With the former director general of the Ministry of Communications, Shlomo Filber, as a state witness, Netanyahu may be indicted and even convicted, or he might choose to resign. Whatever the outcome there is little doubt Israel’s political landscape will undergo a significant reshuffle in the near future.

Several alleged scandals challenge Netanyahu’s political reputation and future career. The first is the “Case 1000,” which opened officially in December 2016 and investigates the close relationship between the Netanyahu family and several wealthy merchants inside and outside Israel.

The second is the “Case 2000,” which is looking into the “special” relationship between Netanyahu and the Israeli mainstream media, Israel Hayom (Israel Today) and Yedioth Ahronoth (Latest News) specifically.

The third is “Case 3000,” which investigates Netanyahu’s role in the Israeli Navy’s purchase of three Dolphin-class submarines and four Sa’ar 6-class corvettes from Germany. Some Israeli analysts believe these purchases were not actually necessary for the navy and some suspect that Netanyahu and other political and military leaders received bribes from the German defense industry.

The fourth is “Case 4000,” which investigates the relationship between the Israel Ministry of Communications, controlled by Netanyahu after 2015, and Israel’s largest telecommunications company Bezeq.

Meanwhile, “Case 1270” investigates whether Netanyahu once offered an “appointment bribe offer” to a candidate for the position of Attorney General in exchange for dropping a case against Netanyahu’s wife, Sara Netanyahu.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara attending a ceremony  at the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, southern Israel, Feb. 20, 2018. /VCG Photo 

Besides all these cases, Netanyahu’s family have also been in a number of personal scandals.

His wife has been criticized for humiliating her housekeepers, while Yair Netanyahu, the prime minister’s son and the widely perceived “successor” of the “Netanyahu dynasty,” was recorded by his own personal driver commenting on girls in strip clubs using “impertinent remarks” in a conversation with friends.

All these scandals disclose a wide range of interests connecting Israeli politicians, energy companies, telecommunication companies, newspapers and even the justice department – not only linking them to Netanyahu and his family but also to some senior military and political officials.

Protesters supporting and opposing Netanyahu have been organizing their own protests in different cities in Israel, such as Petah Tikva and Tel Aviv. Supporters of Netanyahu believe these scandals are “conspiracies” designed by the Israeli left-wing media and social groups, while opponents believe Netanyahu is a “crime minister” and should resign immediately.

Israelis taking part in a demonstration titled the “March of Shame” against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and government corruption in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on December 23, 2017. /VCG Photo 

If Netanyahu does resign or is arrested, it might be not easy to find a good replacement. Having led four cabinets, Netanyahu has become the second longest-serving prime minister since Israeli independence in 1948; only founding Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion lasted longer. Although Israel is a small state with fewer than 9 million people, its society is fragmented and political groups are split into different camps along left-right ideological lines as well as religious-secular factions. It is not easy to find a politician in today’s Israel political arena to replace Netanyahu.

Future candidates include Yair Lapid, the leader of centrist-wing “Yesh Atid” (Future Party); Moshe Kahlon, the leader of centrist-wing Kulanu (everyone of us); Naftali Bennett, the leader of the right-wing party “Habayit HaYehudi” (Jewish Home Party); Avigdor Liberman, the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home Party); Avi Gabbay, the leader of left-wing Mifleget HaAvoda (Labor Party); and Tzipi Livni, the leader of left-wing “Hatnuah” (Movement Party).

However, none of these is as qualified as Netanyahu.

Israeli MP and chairperson of the centre-right Yesh Atid party, Yair Lapid /VCG Photo‍

Yair Lapid, Moshe Kahlon Tzipi Livni and Avi Gabbay lack “defense department” experience, which is important for Israeli voters; Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Liberman need to shift from a right-wing agenda to a right-centrist-wing agenda to attract more voters. And no politician is likely to be able to unite different political camps to form a stable and sustainable government once Netanyahu leaves.

The answer to whether Netanyahu will remain as “prime minister” or resign or be arrested as “crime minister” will emerge in the coming weeks. 

(Wang Jin is a PhD candidate at the School of Political Science, University of Haifa and a research fellow at the Syria Research Center, Northwest University. The article reflects the author’s opinion, and not necessarily the view of CGTN.)