Friday, August 4, 2017

Will Netanyahu go to jail?

(Last update: August 6, 2017)

Today in Israel, as many prepare for the beginning of Shabbat, news reports surfaced that a former Netanyahu Chief of Staff has signed an agreement with Israeli police. That agreement states that Ari Harow--the former aide--will tell police all he knows about two corruption cases that have been developing (for a year-and-a-half) against Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In exchange for his testimony, Harow has reportedly agreed to plead guilty to one fraud count, get no jail time, pay a 700,000 shekel penalty and serve only six months' community service.

Police believe Harow's testimony will be enough to indict the Prime Minister for fraud, bribery and something called, breach of trust. News reports suggest the police are very close to announcing such an indictment.

The Prime Minister has already said there is nothing to these charges. He has declared that these police probes represent a political witch hunt designed to get him out of office.

Is Netanyahu guilty of fraud, bribery and breach of trust--as alleged?  Is he innocent? Is he innocent until proven guilty?

If you live in Israel, you already know the answer to these questions: he's guilty. That is, according to  many in Israel's political and media elite, these news reports make the Prime Minister is so guilty he should  resign immediately ("Opposition leaders say Netanyahu should resign over corruption probes", timesofisrael, July 17, 2017). 

Now that the phrase 'corruption probes' looks like it could turn into 'corruption indictment', you can expect calls for resignation to proliferate. But that might not happen.

Netanyahu is tough. He might not resign. He's also, potentially, more popular than his opposition realizes. 

At almost the same time the news reports of a potential indictment hit the wire today, another news story came out. This news story says a recent poll suggests (reveals?) that, if national elections were held today, Netanyahu's Likud Party would pretty much trounce Netanyahu's main competitors ("Likud surges to double-digit lead in latest poll", arutzsheva, August 4, 2017). 

Granted, this poll was completed before the above police announcement was made. But the people who participated in the poll have been seeing news about these 'probes' for months. The probes aren't a surprise. Neither is a potential indictment.

Will Netanyahu's lead now plummet because the media seems eager to watch him get replaced? If you live in Israel, you probably already know that such a descent in popularity isn't a certainty. Netanyahu's poll numbers may remain strong.

First of all, if Netanyahu is indicted, he may not be required to resign. Also, he could 'tough it out'. He could claim innocence, then dare the police to make the charges stick. 

He could win. Unless the police have a convincing 'smoking gun' evidence against him, efforts to send him to jail could backfire. Netanyahu's claim that this is simply a witch hunt against him could 'play in Peoria'; that is, if his base remains loyal and the evidence against him turns out to be less than compelling, Netanyahu's suggestion that these accusations are a Leftist plot against him could resound with the Israeli public. 

If that happens, Netanyahu's popularity would protect him. More than that, any successful rebuff of these allegations could give him the public backing he needs to 'clean the swamp'', to get rid of many in the government and in the civil administration who have actively opposed him and his policies--and who may be responsible for these allegations. 

This black moment (an indictment against him) may not be so black. Remember, this is Israel. Nothing is as it seems. 

Right now, Netanyahu is getting trashed. That trashing could last for months. 

But will any of it stick? Will he go to jail? Stay tuned. 

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