If Benjamin Netanyahu is indicted but refuses to resign, it could trigger a constitutional crisis in Israel
A world leader stands in front of the camera for a “special announcement” to the nation.
But instead of outlining a grand vision or declaring a national emergency, he complains about the refusal of prosecutors to let him confront the witnesses against him.
In subsequent videos, he criticises TV stations for reporting leaks from a corruption investigation against him.
He also jokes on social media about bribery allegations.
This is not US President Donald Trump waging war against the “Fake News Media” while denouncing the special prosecutor’s “witch hunt”.
These are the tactics of a far more experienced politician: Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Israeli Prime Minister is facing arguably the biggest battle of his career, one that could dramatically change the democracy he leads.
Mr Netanyahu’s targets include some of Israel’s main media outlets, police, state prosecutors and even the Attorney-General he himself appointed.
His party, Likud, is running an anti-media campaign ahead of national elections on April 9, which includes billboards of prominent journalists and the slogan, “They won’t decide, you will”.
Israel’s Attorney-General Avichai Mandleblit is considering police recommendations to indict Mr Netanyahu over three separate corruption cases, which include charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
Mr Mandleblit is expected to announce his decision on whether to indict Mr Netanyahu before the election.
Polls suggest he is on track to be re-elected.
If he’s indicted but refuses to resign, it could trigger a constitutional crisis.
Israeli PM a suspect in several corruption cases
Leaks to Israeli media suggest an indictment is most likely in what’s known as “Case 4000”.
Police and Israel’s Securities Authority allege Mr Netanyahu — who was also Communications Minister — directed a senior official to allow the national telecommunications company, Bezeq, to purchase shares in a cable television provider.
The beneficiary of the deal, Bezeq’s former owner Shaul Elovitch, could also be facing charges for allegedly promising Mr Netanyahu favourable media coverage in return.
Favourable media coverage is also the alleged bribe in “Case 2000”, in which the prime minister is accused of conspiring with the publisher of daily newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, to introduce legislation to disadvantage the paper’s main rival.
There is also “Case 1000”, in which the prime minister is accused of accepting lavish gifts from billionaires, including Australian James Packer.
Mr Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing in all three cases.
“There will be nothing, because there is nothing,” is his oft-repeated line.
Netanyahu ‘deflecting attention from alleged crimes’
Israeli law suggests a prime minister must resign only if convicted, but there’s uncertainty because the law has not been tested.
Journalist Anshel Pfeffer, who wrote a biography of Benjamin Netanyahu, said he would likely face petitions to the High Court to remove him.
“The High Court could possibly rule that despite the law being ostensibly on his side, it would be unreasonable and unconstitutional for an indicted prime minister to remain in office,” he said.
“That’s uncharted territory, you could even argue that’s a constitutional crisis whereby the courts would be removing an elected leader.”
Mr Pfeffer said Benjamin Netanyahu is mining a decades-old conflict in Israel, between politicians and the judicial system.
“There’s been for many years now criticism — mainly from the right [wing] — that the courts are too activist, too interventionist. Netanyahu is taking it up to 11,” he said.
“He’s really exacerbated those tensions. And by setting the scene for a full-blown constitutional crisis where he — as it seems now — is adamant in remaining in office, that is taking that tension and the existing conflict to the maximum.”
Pollster and political analyst Dahlia Scheindlin said Mr Netanyahu has used this approach before, but the electorate is now more divided and more likely to question the role of Israeli institutions.
“What I think is new is the deep suspicion of public institutions and the questioning of what democracy really means,” she said.
“The long-term impact that I think he’ll have on his followers is their sense that democracy really means majority rule, and if the majority elected this legislature, they should take precedence over any checks and balances that we would see in a normal democracy.
“That’s what I think we’re looking at — a redefinition of what democracy means to a less liberal form that doesn’t protect minority rights, doesn’t protect checks and balances as much, doesn’t protect or respect civil liberties, civil society and free press and the independence of the branches of government.”
Polling shows the Israeli public is divided on whether they believe the prime minister is being persecuted.
The polls also show Mr Netanyahu is on track to win one quarter of the seats in parliament, making him the most likely to form the next government.
If that happens, he would become Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, and could also become its first to serve under indictment.
This content was originally published here.