Can Bibi survive? That’s the big question after Israeli police recommended last week that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be indicted for bribery and breach of trust. The charges stem from two cases: in what’s been dubbed Case 1000, Netanyahu, along with his wife and son, is accused of accepting bribes from businessmen; Case 2000 involves allegations that the prime minister offered to undercut an Israeli newspaper, in exchange for favourable coverage from a rival paper. (Another ongoing investigation – Case 3000, the “Submarine Affair” – may or may not directly involve Netanyahu, but certainly involves some of his closest associates.) For his part, the prime minister has denied the charges, questioned the motives of the police investigation and, in a live broadcast, declared he will “continue to lead Israel responsibly and faithfully.”
Of course, this isn’t the first time Bibi and his family have faced these sorts of challenges. Back in the 1990s, Netanyahu was suspected of influence peddling, but no charges were laid. More recently, he and his wife were accused of keeping gifts from world leaders (instead of handing them over as state property). He has faced repeated questions about his travel expenses (remember the US$127,000 charge for a custom sleeping cabin on a flight to London?). Meanwhile, a Jerusalem court recently awarded a former employee of the prime minister’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, 80,000 shekels ($28,000) in damages for humiliation and degradation. Sara Netanyahu has also come under fire for household spending, while their son, Yair Netanyahu, is derided in the Israeli press for his drunken partying and some concerning comments caught on camera and spread through social media.
“Nothing will have sway and nothing will sway me, not even the incessant attacks against me,” Netanyahu said during last week’s TV speech. He sounded confident, and perhaps he has reason to be. After all, the 13th (and ninth) prime minister of Israel has survived time after time. Then again, Israel’s 12th prime minister didn’t fare so well when he faced charges of accepting bribes and obstructing justice. Ehud Olmert completed a 16-month prison stay last summer.
In truth, it’s hard to imagine an Israel without Bibi at the helm. If he is found guilty, then all bets are off, but short of that, there does not seem to be nearly enough political pressure to force him out. His supposedly precarious governing coalition has held together, and while, according to one Israeli poll, half the country believes Netanyahu should step down, a second poll shows his Likud Party gaining popularity, while its nearest competitor, Yesh Atid, declines.
As for where the Jewish Diaspora stands when it comes to Bibi, many will continue to support him as the leader of the Jewish state, so long as he maintains the office. Others wrote him off long ago for his perceived expansionist policies in the West Bank and unwillingness to make peace with the Palestinians (not to mention his cozy relationship with U.S. President Donald Trump and the Republican Party). In the end, it’s up to Israeli voters to decide Netanyahu’s future. And if his history is any indication, Bibi may very well hold onto power until the next election – to be held no later than November 2019 – and perhaps even beyond.