The name Benjamin literally means “man of the right,” and Prime Minister Netanyahu had nowhere left to turn. His only hope was to win a new election, but after holding two in one year that he could not win decisively, the likelihood of him winning a third cannot be deemed very strong. Part of the magic of incumbency in elections is the sense of inevitability, of consistency, of familiarity. When that doesn’t work in two separate elections, all you are left with is an aging fellow who has overstayed his welcome. Unless something wild and crazy happens, like a war, and nobody wants one of those.
Well, does this qualify for a wild card, an unpredictable game-changer that could either destroy a guy or provoke a backlash in his favor? Benjamin Netanyahu has been indicted by the attorney general of Israel, Avichai Mandelblit, on three counts of fraud, bribery, and breach of trust. That is sure to make everyone mad. The leftists will fulminate, the legalists will fuss, the rightists will fume.
There is actually a potential for a Netanyahu victory in this scenario, and it goes something like this. A lot of politically conservative types have been denying the prime minister their votes in the last two go-rounds for various reasons: time for new blood, voting for smaller, more right-of-center parties, and general disillusionment. Those voters could be rallied back into the fold if they can be sold on the importance of “sending a message” to those elitists, those eggheads, those softies, you know the drill. Bottom line, you never know: this may make some people angry enough to consolidate around the one tried leader who can articulate their worldview and occasionally honor it in his policies. (Did I say “tried”? Poor choice of words.)
The charges center around the classic modes of corruption: buying gifts with favors and buying favors with gifts. Specifically, he stands accused of accepting expensive cigars from billionaires who want access and of giving benefits to media companies in return for better coverage. This is ironic when one considers that Rush Limbaugh has said on the air that Netanyahu brings him cigars. So did Netanyahu regift the billionaires’ cigars to get better coverage from Rush? Shhhh, we had better pipe down before they announce a fourth count.
Remember, Israel has already jailed a former prime minister on similar charges. Ehud Olmert was sentenced to 11 months in prison for accepting cash gifts and collectible pens while double-billing the government and foreign donors for his travel. The Israeli Supreme Court thought that was too lenient and tacked another five months onto his sentence. So this is not a hollow threat. And to Netanyahu’s chagrin, his rival Benjamin Gantz tweeted an old video clip of Netanyahu saying Olmert should resign before his indictment comes down, advice Olmert followed.
But Netanyahu is not Olmert. Benjamin has a following of people who feel a deep bond with him that is almost personal. He is the longest-serving prime minister in the 71-year history of the state of Israel, surpassing David Ben-Gurion. His brother was the martyred hero of Entebbe. He was one of the heroes who stormed a hijacked Sabena plane in Tel Aviv Airport and rescued the passengers. And he has presided over the great tech boom, which has brought the small country a bounty of prosperity. The Jewish People was founded to fight iconolatry, but he is an icon of sorts.
The comparisons between his current situation and that of our president are as ubiquitous as they are odious, so I will leave that for creeps like Democrat Congressman John Yarmuth, who said, “Bad week for criminal heads of state.”
All of this brings us full circle or right triangle, from the geometry to the new calculus. All bets are now off. Once the goody-two-shoes attorney general, a Netanyahu appointee, decided to indict, he unleashed a new element into the mix that seems certain to blow up the electoral stalemate one way or the other. If people buy into this indictment as the triumph of good government, then Benny will have to take mandatory retirement at age 70. But if the indictment is seen as officious busybody pettifogging, if it is seen as bureaucrats trying to nullify voters, it may just sell his voting bloc into voting him off the cell block.