More Israelis want Netanyahu out of office than in

Reality Check: Netanyahu refuses to do the math

A woman stands next to a ballot box as she prepares to vote in Haifa, last week. (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
A woman stands next to a ballot box as she prepares to vote in Haifa, last week.
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
If you thought the past election campaign was ugly, prepare yourself for something even worse. The lows of the last few weeks, courtesy of Netanyahus father and son, will pale into nothing as the realization dawns on Benjamin Netanyahu that his days as prime minister are rapidly drawing to a close.
Proving there was no low to which they would not sink, Benjamin and Yair Netanyahu ran a campaign more reminiscent of a mafia family than a political party. From underhand recordings of supposedly private conversations with a rabbi, to false insinuations of extramarital affairs, to attempts to blackmail political opponents into switching sides, the ends justified the means in the eyes of the Netanyahus.
And that end was very clear: ensuring that Benjamin Netanyahu, charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, stands trial next week in the Jerusalem District Court with the political levers of power still in his hands in order to stymie the wheels of justice from turning in his direction.
Let’s not kid ourselves: Were Netanyahu to have a majority in the Knesset, even by the smallest of margins, he would immediately argue there is no need for him to stand trial, as the country has already acquitted him. Fast on the heels of swearing in his new government, his first move would not be to annex the Jordan Valley to formalize Israel’s borders, but something more important to Netanyahu’s personal security: a retroactive immunity law from prosecution.
BUT THE reality is, no matter how the prime minister tries to mangle the math, Netanyahu lost last week’s elections. As Gideon Sa’ar prophetically declared back in November when challenging the prime minister for the Likud leadership: “Netanyahu won’t be able to form a government, even if there are third and fourth elections. He needs to draw the proper conclusions.”
Worryingly, Netanyahu has refused to accept that the majority of the electorate clearly voted to turf him out of office. Last week he shockingly stated that he won the elections because his right-wing bloc has 58 seats in the Knesset to the center-left’s 47 seats, totally ignoring the record 15 seats won by the Joint List.
This refusal to count the votes of the Arab minority (as well as the thousands of Jewish voters who voted for the list) marked another sad chapter in Netanyahu’s delegitimization of Israel’s Arab population. It’s as though the prime minister were saying we allow Arab-Israelis to go through the motions of voting, but their ballot papers have no actual weight; Jewish votes are the only ones that matter.
(If you find yourself nodding your head in agreement with the sentiment of the previous sentence, just change the country to Germany and see if you would agree with a German politician saying only German votes mattered, not those of German Jews.)
The fact is the right-wing bloc lost last week’s elections by 58 mandates to 62. More Israelis want Netanyahu out of office than in. But that won’t stop Netanyahu and the Likud from claiming that Blue and White is stealing the elections if Benny Gantz goes ahead and seeks to form a minority government, relying on parliamentary support from the Joint List. Already on Saturday night, Netanyahu called an emergency rally “to prevent antidemocratic electoral theft.”
The one plus of the coronavirus is that due to restrictions on mass gatherings, Netanyahu was forced to hold this rally digitally and not in Zion Square. The last thing Israel needs is a repeat of the protests led by Netanyahu a quarter of a century ago, in which he whipped the crowds up into a frenzy and then later denied sowing the seeds of incitement which ended in Yitzhak Rabin’s murder.
These are not normal times. The country has been through three elections in the space of less than a year, and each time Netanyahu has failed to command a majority. A fourth round is untenable, and yet Netanyahu is refusing to put the country’s best interests at heart by admitting defeat and standing down.
Were he to resign as the Likud’s leader, the Likud and Blue and White would have little problem in forming a large, stable coalition, which is definitely more to Gantz’s tastes than trying to run a minority coalition reliant on the Joint List’s votes. The two parties together would even be strong enough to chop the haredi parties down to size and remove their disproportionate influence on society. Israeli politics would enter a new era, and the political debate would move on from “yes Bibi/no Bibi.”
This though, is not going to happen. Netanyahu, as is clear to all, is never going to step down voluntarily while the Jerusalem District Court awaits him.
Which is why, although legislation targeting individuals generally do not make for good laws, there is much merit in Ahmad Tibi’s proposal to table a law preventing a Knesset member facing criminal charges from forming a government, and thus end Netanyahu’s attempts to stay in office. Indeed, when Ehud Olmert was prime minister back in 2008, Netanyahu supported a similar type of bill, which sought to depose a sitting prime minister who was under indictment.
What was true back then is still true today: a person under indictment should not be prime minister.
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.