(Naples, Florida) — As I write this, I’m preparing to board a series of flights to get me home to Israel after a six week book tour for The Persian Gamble. I’m eager to see my wife and sons, and eager to join millions of my fellow Israelis who will turn out to vote on Tuesday in one of the most fiercely-contested and potentially most-consequential national elections in a generation.
No one really has any idea who will win, but many political analysts and most in the media believe we are about to enter a “post-Bibi era.” I certainly have no idea what the outcome will be, and I take the media’s predictions with a grain of salt. Most in the Israeli media hate Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu and have for years. They are rooting for Bibi’s chief rival, former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz and his centrist Blue & White Party.
That said, let’s be clear: Netanyahu does, in fact, face serious legal and political jeopardy that could bring his long and storied political career to an end sooner than most on the Israeli right (or American Evangelicals) think.
Here’s the short version…..
- Netanyahu has been indicted in three separate corruption, bribery and fraud cases.
- Sara, his wife, has been indicted in a fourth and completely separate case.
- Bibi and his closest friends and supporters dismiss this all as a “witch hunt” and say they will eventually be exonerated. Hopefully. But the indictments came not from a political enemy but from Netanyahu’s hand-chosen Attorney General Avichai Mandelbilt. He’s widely regarded in Israel as a fair and able lawyer. What’s more, he took a full year to review the initial recommendation by Israeli police authorities to prosecute Netanyahu based on some 800 pages of evidence.
- Worth noting: In 2014, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was convicted on corruption charges and was sent to prison.
- Also worth noting: In 2010, Israeli President Moshe Katsav was convicted on multiple charges of raping a woman on his staff, and he was sent to prison.
- Yes, we should give the Netanyahus the legal presumption of innocence. I hope and pray that they are exonerated. Who wants the First Couple of their country to be guilty of multiple crimes?
- Bibi has some serious flaws, and he has made some very disappointing personal and political mistakes over the years. He has been harshly and unfairly critical of Israeli Arabs, at times, and rarely focuses on improving life for Israeli Arabs, even though they are full-fledged citizens of the state. He recently associated himself with a racist, bigoted, anti-Arab, far-right-wing political party and worked to recruit their leaders — previously far outside the mainstream — into his coalition. He routines grants enormous political power and lavishes much government spending on the ultra-Orthodox religious parties whose children don’t serve in the IDF, who demand far too much welfare, and are typically hostile to Christians and especially to Jewish followers of Jesus. Moreover, most of the leaders of Israel’s center-right political parties are Bibi’s former chiefs of staff or former very close allies of his who become so frustrated with him and feel so burned by Bibi that they quit Likud in exasperation and start their own parties. This is not a man who is fond of discipling future leaders.
- Still, it should be noted that he has also been an excellent prime minister in a number of ways. He resisted repeated efforts by President Obama to make unwise and dangerous concessions to Israel’s sworn enemies. He led the global charge against the insane Iran nuclear deal and persuaded President Trump to scrap the deal and reimpose crippling economic sanctions on Iran. He has kept Israel safe. He hasn’t led us recklessly into war, but he has constantly ordered the Israeli Air Force to bomb Iranian forces trying to establish bases in Syria. Israel’s economy is booming. Israel has become a high tech superpower. Unemployment is only 3.6%, lower than even the US. Tourism is booming, reaching record levels year after year. Bibi persuaded President Trump to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem and recognize the Golan Heights as Israeli sovereign territory that will never be given back to Syria. What’s more, Bibi has impressively built diplomatic ties with China, India, Brazil, African and Latin American countries and even numerous Arab and other Muslim countries at a time when many thought Israel would become increasingly diplomatically isolated because no peace treaty has been agreed to with Palestinian leaders.
- Bibi is a complicated man who generates strong emotions — for and against him. But as elections approach I want my readers (especially American Evangelicals) to be aware of just how serious are the charges and how seriously Israeli courts deal with senior officials if they are convicted.
POLITICAL JEOPARDY — TWO SCENARIOS
- For months, polls have indicated that Bibi and his Likud Party have been losing to the Blue & White Party, led by Benny Gantz.
- Some late polls suggest Netanyahu and Likud have closed the gap and are neck-and-neck with Gantz. However….
- The final published poll suggested Gantz’s team would win 32 Knesset (parliament) seats, while Bibi and his team would win only 27.
- If Gantz and his party do, in fact, win the most seats on Tuesday, Gantz will likely be tapped by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin with the opportunity to form a coalition government. If Gantz can cobble together a coalition of 61 or more seats of the 120-seat Knesset, then he will become the country’s next premier. This would be a nightmare scenario for Netanyahu, and would likely spell the end of his political career. He would likely step down from Likud and enter private life.
- However, there is a second nightmare scenario for Netanyahu. He and Likud could eke out a victory and win more seats than Gantz. But what happens if even one leader of a right-wing party — one of Bibi’s natural coalition partners — says, “Bibi, we love you. We’re sure you and Sara are innocent of all these charges. However, we can’t sit in a government with an indicted Prime Minister who needs to spend as much time thinking about how to defend himself and his family as about defending the country. You need to step aside, fight these charges, clear your name, and then re-enter the political arena”? If one or more center-right party leader refuses to sit in a Netanyahu-led government, this could block him from becoming Prime Minister, and this, too, could potentially spell the end of his career.
I’ll be providing updates and analysis on Twitter. In the meantime, please pray for all of Israel’s leaders, our people, and our future. Never a dull moment in our part of the world.
Full disclosure: I worked on Bibi’s “come back campaign team” in the year 2000 for a few months. However, I don’t work for him now, and haven’t met with him personally in at least ten years. My objective here is not to advocate for or against any Israeli candidate but to brief my readers on the political lay of the land.