Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly revealed that he is seeking parliamentary immunity relating to three ongoing corruption cases.
In November 2019, Netanyahu was indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust over allegations of offering government favors, worth the equivalent of hundreds of millions of dollars, in exchange for positive coverage from Israeli media owners.
Netanyahu has repeatedly denied the accusations levied against him. He claims that they are an “attempted coup” by members of the media and the left. He has repeatedly used Trump-like rhetoric when claiming that the prosecution is engaging in a witch hunt.
Israel is set for a record third election in less than a year after the last two resulted in a hung parliament with no party able to outrightly win or build a coalition with a governing majority.
Netanyahu’s main challenger for the position of the prime minister, Benny Gantz of the Blue and White Party, has consistently denounced the premier’s acts including his attempt at immunity. Gantz, who is seeking to establish a broad-based unity government that could potentially include Netanyahu’s Likud Party — but without Netanyahu — described the choice as one between “the kingdom of Netanyahu or the State of Israel.”
Though corruption charges were only unveiled a couple of months ago, such allegations are nothing new for the Netanyahu family. Israel’s attorney general had expressed his intentions to file charges as early February of last year. In June, the prime minister’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, pleaded guilty to a charge relating to misuse of public funds for lavish meals that she had ordered.
In December 2018, a recording of Netanyahu’s son, Yair, leaked wherein he asserted in a conversation outside a strip club that his father had helped Israeli businessman and gas tycoon Kobi Maimon make $20 billion.
While outwardly the above incidents may appear damaging, the Israeli prime minister has largely survived unscathed domestically. On December 26th, Netanyahu won a landslide victory during a leadership election within his party, in which he won a stunning 72.5% of the vote.
In the U.S., however, ongoing charges will likely negatively affect Israel’s image among Democratic voters ahead of the 2020 election. Netanyahu’s time in office has increasingly been defined by growing partisanship over the United States’ relationship with Israel. This is, to a significant extent, the result of the prime minister’s very close relationship with President Donald Trump. In the eyes of many Democratic voters, Netanyahu is Israel’s Trump.
While the Middle Eastern state still commands significant support in the U.S. Congress, this is less true for Netanyahu as an individual. The prime minister’s self-projected image as the country’s defender from military threats carries less weight across the Atlantic with Jewish voters in particular, who lean heavily Democratic, growing increasingly alienated.
Should Netanyahu manage to survive yet another general election, Israel’s current relationship with the United States will increasingly be reliant on the presence of a Republican in the White House. Senator Bernie Sanders has proposed that U.S. aid be made conditional on Israel taking greater measures on the Palestinian issue.
Recent domestic challenges have been staved off by Netanyahu through a variety of face-saving measures, often enabled by the Trump Administration. The moving of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem as well as the recognition of Israel’s claim over the Golan Heights — internationally recognized as belonging to Syria — have been particularly helpful.
Netanyahu’s emphasis on defense might mean that tensions with Iran will continue to resurface. These tensions have already manifested themselves in the form of his opposition to the Iran nuclear deal and as numerous airstrikes on Iranian positions within Syria. In the past, the prime minister’s popularity has generally increased during such incidents.
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