The headlines regarding the Israeli government’s decision to move towards early elections in April were a textbook case of fake news. “Netanyahu’s government collapses! Israel heading for early elections,” was the basic gist of most of them.
Israel’s last general elections to the national parliament, the Knesset, were held in March 2015. According to Israeli law, elections had to be held no later than November 2019. This week, Netanyahu and his coalition partners decided to hold them on April 9 – seven months before the legal deadline and more than four years after the last ones.
In other words, the decision to move elections from November to April isn’t a very big deal.
At his press conference announcing the move on Monday Netanyahu said he expects to form more or less the same coalition government after the April elections. So far, the polls indicate that the results for Israel’s center-right parties, which make up Netanyahu’s current government, will be more or less what they were in the last election.
Israel’s leftist parties will continue to wallow in the minority, with no chance of forming a governing coalition.
So despite the elections, Israel’s political environment remains stable.
Of course, anything can happen in elections. And as Netanyahu told a group of mayors from Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria on Wednesday, the media can be expected to continue its longstanding practice of pushing the scales as hard as possible in favor of the left – and, really, anyone they believe can oppose him.
Political NGOs, funded by foreign governments and radical donors and foundations in the U.S. have made it a practice to finance negative “non-political” campaigns against Netanyahu, and they are expected to repeat their attempts to unseat him and his coalition partners in the current election cycle.
The fact that Netanyahu is expected to win his reelection bid also will work to suppress voter turnout among his own voters. His great challenge then will be to motivate his supporters to vote while selling his message wholesale directly to voters, bypassing the media through social media and other nontraditional platforms, as he has in the past.
But assuming projections are correct, the great challenge Netanyahu faces today is not winning re-election. Rather, governing after the election will be his greatest challenge.
In Israel today, there are effectively two governments – one elected and one unelected. And as things stand, the unelected government has more power than the elected government.
Israel’s unelected government is its legal fraternity. Israel’s legal fraternity has two arms – the hyper-activist Supreme Court, and the attorney general.
Israel’s attorney general serves both as legal advisor to the government and as the head of the state prosecution. Over the past two decades, the two arms of Israel’s legal fraternity have seized massive powers to the point where together, the justices and the attorney general exert significant control over all government policies and legislative initiatives.
Israel’s justices have arrogated to themselves the power to cancel laws and government policies. The attorney general has arrogated to himself the power to block laws from passing, the power to require state ministries to give the weight of law to his legal opinions, the power to cancel government policies, and the power to block the government and its ministers from defending themselves before the Supreme Court.
Under the Israeli legal system, the attorney general is also the head of the state prosecution. The prosecutors have unchecked authority to order the investigation and to indict sitting elected officials, including the prime minister. They have repeatedly abused this power to indict innocent politicians. And due to a scandalous Supreme Court ruling requiring politicians to resign if indicted, the attorney general has the power to unseat any politician simply by indicting him.
Two years ago, Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit bowed to pressure from the left and ordered the police to open criminal investigations against Netanyahu. As Breitbart News has documented, the allegations of graft and bribery being raised against Netanyahu are spurious on their face and unsupported by precedent, practice, or law. Netanyahu is accused of accepting bribes in the form of cigars and champagne from one friend, whose legislative goals Netanyahu failed to support.
Netanyahu is also accused of accepting bribes in the form of positive coverage from a website in exchange for regulatory breaks for the website’s owner. The problem is that the coverage he received from the website was almost entirely hostile and the regulatory policies he enacted bankrupted his friend’s company.
Netanyahu is accused of negotiating a deal to curtail the circulation of a friendly newspaper in exchange for less hostile coverage from an unfriendly paper. But no deal was ever made. And Netanyahu went to early elections to block passage of a law – drafted by the lawyers of the hostile paper – that would have closed down the paper that is friendly to him.
In other words, the investigations against Netanyahu are absurd.
And yet, the police submitted their investigations to the state prosecutors with the recommendation that Netanyahu be indicted for accepting bribes, influence peddling, and a host of other corruption charges. The state prosecutors, for their part, have used every microphone for the past week to announce that they intend to recommend to the attorney general that Netanyahu be indicted. And Mandelblit has signaled that he may announce his decision during the course of the elections.
The very fact that his decision is looming and may be announced at any moment keeps the political sphere, in the midst of an election campaign, in a state of continuous suspense. While this state of affairs could work to Netanyahu’s advantage in the elections, due to widespread public anger over Israel’s increasingly tyrannical legal fraternity, the threat of indictment, and the prospect of an actual indictment, hangs heavily over Netanyahu’s chances of forming and leading a governing coalition.
Israel’s parliament – the Knesset – has 120 seats. To form a coalition government, Netanyahu needs 61 lawmakers. Right now, his Likud party and his natural coalition partners in the social conservative and religious right number between 53 and 58 seats. To form a coalition, then, he will need the support of a number of smaller center parties. In his current coalition, he reached 61 with the support of the populist Kulanu party. But to win Kulanu’s support, Netanyahu had to agree to give Kulanu a veto on all efforts to carry out legal reform aimed at curbing the powers of the attorney general and the Supreme Court. Other center parties running have similar, pro-legal fraternity positions.
Under the circumstances, Netanyahu’s Likud party may win the elections. But unless the Likud — together with its natural coalition partners from the social conservative, ideological right and religious parties — win a governing majority of 61 seats outright, the legal fraternity – Israel’s unelected government – may prevent Netanyahu from forming a government.