Buzz on Balfour: Netanyahu’s re-election bid hit by a legal storm

BUZZ ON BALFOUR — by JI’s Jacob Kornbluh:Israel’s Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit announced his intention to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, on Thursday. With 40 days to go before Israelis head to the polls, Netanyahu called the prosecution’s announcement “outrageous” and an “unprecedented witch hunt” carried out by his “leftist” opponents. He referred to himself as “Benjamin Netanyahu, the most maligned man in the history of Israeli media.”

In his prime-time address, Netanyahu boasted about his warm ties with world leaders, thanking President Trump for his words of praise. This “unique connection with the leaders of the world powers is not something that should be taken for granted,” Netanyahu said. 

Speaking after Netanyahu, Benny Gantz ruled out joining a coalition with Netanyahu and called on the PM to step down to conduct his legal battle as a private citizen. “The state of Israel is worthy of more than this,” he said.

HOW IT PLAYED — Benjamin Netanyahu’s Bid for Reelection Hit By Legal Storm — by David Wainer, Jonathan Ferziger and Ivan Levingston: “This year could see Benjamin Netanyahu surpassing founding father David Ben-Gurion as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. It also could be the year he steps down in disgrace… Netanyahu’s bid for history got much more difficult with the [AG] announcement.” [Bloomberg• Accused of corruption, Benjamin Netanyahu vows to fight on [Economist]

Arnon Milchan Will Not Face Corruption Charges in Israel — by Amy Spiro: 
“In a surprise decision, Israel’s attorney general has announced that he will not press charges against Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan for his central role in a case of alleged corruption involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.” [Variety]

— Nathan Guttman
“Sheldon Adelson is, in fact, the good guy in this story. He refused to go ahead with Bibi’s quid-pro-quo with the publisher of Yediot Ahronot. The deal would promise Bibi favorable coverage if he could ensure curbing the circulation of Adelson’s newspaper.” 

REACTION — Dennis Ross: “The PM is trying to make the story one in which his opponents on the left cannot defeat him at the polls so they have used a trumped-up set of charges to force him out. The problem is that the AG was his cabinet secretary, is a religious Zionist, and can hardly be called a leftist. But Israel is polarized and those who support Bibi will say it’s all a political maneuver and those who oppose him will say he has to go because how can he function as PM if he has to spend his time in Court. The real question is where do the undecideds come out — do they believe a threshold has been crossed and it is time for him to go or do they believe he is being unfairly persecuted?”

Dr. Einat Wilf: “I have no doubt that the Prime Minister truly believes that he is innocent. Moreover, it is clear that his obsession with the media and his desire to control it at any price, which are at the root of the three charges, comes from a deep sense of being substantially under-appreciated. But this is the curse of all leaders and politicians  —that save for a select few, they will always be maligned and under-appreciated, certainly by their own measure. The charges that this is orchestrated by an all encompassing mystical ‘left’ are of-course bogus and collapse in the face of the fact that they have been brought forth by people who politically belong to the right. But Netanyahu’s ‘left’ has long ago ceased having any political meaning and has become a stand-in for a nefarious force that seeks to stand in the PM’s path. What Netanyahu has encountered is what every politician in a democracy (and even not in democracies) has encountered: the limits of power. It is an old tale, but that is all it is.”  

Aaron David Miller: “They key for Bibi is demonstrating indispensability. He’d agree with De Gaulle that cemeteries of France are filled with indispensable people. But he wants to convince voters he is. He believes Putin and Trump help him do that. And Trump will likely play his part. Same on the ultimate deal peace plan. He knows that the plan was written for him to play a key role. And while Trump’s search for progress would likely be better with Gantz, Bibi will portray himself as the only one could either work with Trump or if necessary stand up to him.”

IPF’s Michael Koplow on Gantz’s statement: “It’s not surprising that Gantz is ruling out joining a government with Netanyahu given that his central campaign plank is that Netanyahu must be replaced for the good of the country. On the day that Mandelblit announced his intention to indict Netanyahu, it would be foolhardy for him to do anything but double down on his argument that Netanyahu must go. More significant is his and Lapid’s refusal to rule out forming a government with a Netanyahu-less Likud. As for Netanyahu, his most potent argument is that he has raised Israel to unprecedented heights on the world stage and that he is accepted by the leaders of global powers as a peer. I expect him to tout his relationship with Trump, Putin, Modi, and others as often and as loudly as he can as a way of warning Israeli voters and his coalition partners that Israel’s status is overly dependent on his remaining on Balfour Street.” 

Watch: Bret Stephens told MSNBC’s Katy Tur that Netanyahu “is going to be remembered as the Richard Nixon of Israeli politics.” [Video]

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