Kafe Knesset for August 4
Bribery, fraud, and breach of trust: These three suspected Netanyahu crimes, which were laid out black in white in an official Police memo yesterday, are going to hover over the political system for at least the next few weeks. The suspicions against Netanyahu were already the subject of widespread speculation by various analysts and commentators over the past year, but this is the first time that the Police have publicly and officially detailed the suspicions against the Prime Minister. The Police memo appeared as part of a request for a gag order which was signed today regarding details of negotiations with Ari Harow over a state witness agreement. “There will be nothing, because there is nothing,” was the statement chanted by the PM, as usual, calling the news part of the campaign to topple the government.
But no one appears to be buying the nonchalant response. A senior minister who met with Netanyahu this week told Kafe Knesset that Bibi appeared to be “troubled.” The lead news story every day during this past week was about the legal status of one or more of Bibi’s closest confidants. The phrase “critical mass” is being whispered more and more, even by some of Bibi’s partners, who are quietly contemplating that the rope around the PM’s neck is tightening.
On the record, only members of the opposition have reacted to the latest news. Avi Gabbay, the new Labor chair, tweeted, “We have no expectations from Netanyahu himself, but where are his partners who are supposed to say ‘enough is enough.'” Former PM Ehud Barak, in his regular Facebook video blog, said Netanyahu’s partners look like deer in headlights. Barak stated that Netanyahu will not be able to continue his tenure if he is indeed indicted, even though legally he definitely can. But the question is more than the legal formalities which will determine Netanyahu’s fate, but rather the politics around it, meaning his and his coalition partners’ interests. The common assumption is that no one in the coalition has any will to change this government, but that could change if and when it appears that Netanyahu is involved in some serious misdoings. “The political tipping point is the state witness deal with Harow. The indictment now became a possibility,” a senior minister told Kafe Knesset. “This will change the picture and could lead to significant political tremors.” One of the main options floated in the air is that Netanyahu himself will call for early elections, and use his so called “persecution” by law enforcement bodies as his main campaign message. On the other end of the spectrum is the possibility that he will do nothing. A formal indictment could take months, and if no significant pressure emerges from his coalition partners, he might just stick to his chair. Even parliamentary agitation, like no-confidence votes or proposals by opposition MKs to dissolve the Knesset, is unlikely to happen now because the Knesset is in recess.
The latest surge in investigation developments is attributed by many to the ongoing weekly demonstrations outside Attorney General Avichai Mandleblit’s house. For 38 consecutive weeks, dozens of activists have been arriving every Saturday night to a Petach Tikva square near Mandelblit’s residence. The activists are protesting the handling of the criminal probes against the Netanyahus, accusing the Attorney General of stalling and dragging his feet on his former boss’s legal issues. In recent weeks, the numbers of protestors have grown significantly, with an estimated 2,000 protestors arriving last Saturday evening in Petach Tikva and at 14 other sites around the country. The Likud has been blasting these protests as “leftist” and have organized a counter-protest tomorrow, led by coalition chairman and Bibi loyalist David Bitan. The Likud is urging supporters to arrive and defend their leader. “This is not a personal issue, but a national one,” Likud MK Dudi Amsalem said today. “The story is the left, not Netanyahu. They understand they cannot replace him so they are investigating stupid stuff and hope that one of the cases will score.”
An electoral poll conducted this week by the “Makor Rishon” newspaper, however, shows that so far the PM has nothing to worry about. Likud remains stable with 30 mandates, with Yesh Atid a distant second with 20 mandates. But the poll was conducted before the developments of the last 24 hours, and before Bibi’s weekend opened with the bad news that Harow, who used to be one of the closest aides ever, will be testifying against him.
Not-so-transparent: From a major scandal to minor one. Zionist Union MK Stav Shaffir has made an international name for herself. She is young, quick-witted and her progressive messaging appeals to left-wing Zionist Jews around the world. Plus, she was one of the heads of the 2011 social protests. So, it did not come as a surprise when Globes reported that she is one of the MKs who spent the most time abroad during the past two years. One of those trips was funded by Ha’aretz, a fact that is making waves. According to the Knesset’s ethics rules, lawmakers’ trips abroad can only be funded by non-profit organizations, as in Shaffir’s case, by J Street or by the Brookings Institution, but not by commercial entities. Which begs the question – why did the Ethics Committee authorize the flight paid for by Ha’aretz to begin with? Shaffir is a crusader for transparency, and even started a special Knesset committee to promote transparency, so some – especially on the far-right – are calling the new revelation a sign of her hypocrisy. Shaffir claims otherwise. Shaffir asserts that a Jewish community organization in London paid for her trip, but that is not what the Knesset Ethics Committee’s chart says. Shaffir was not the only MK for whom Ha’aretz picked up the bill, by the way – Tzipi Livni, Ayman Odeh and Omer Bar-Lev benefitted from that same perk, as well. And Livni was the lawmaker who spent the most time out of the country.
Jerusalem Pride: Some MKs, both in the coalition and the opposition, participated in yesterday’s Jerusalem LGBT Pride parade. The Jerusalem march has always been more political than the party-central Tel Aviv version. In Jerusalem there is always a bit of a struggle over whether the city with such a massive religious population – Jewish and Muslim – should host the event. It has become an even more serious event since 2015, when teenager Shira Banki was murdered at the parade. In any case, last night, Likud, Kulanu, Zionist Union, Yesh Atid and Meretz were all represented among the marchers, and political Twitter was full of rainbow flags.
The participants seemed especially motivated to fight for their rights, since earlier that day, the Supreme Court didn’t take a clear position on whether gay couples should be allowed to adopt or not. The court decided to postpone its ruling for six months to allow the Knesset to pass legislation on the subject. However, the Knesset is unlikely to do anything, since the matter is Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman’s responsibility, and he is haredi and not seen as sympathetic to the cause of gay rights.