Tel Aviv Diary: Will the New Year Bring the End of Netanyahu?

The city of Tel Aviv, its schools, some of its communal organizations, and businesses have come together to build the tallest plastic cube tower in the world.

The initiative was launched to honor the memory of a Lego-loving nine-year-old boy named Omer, who died from a rare form of brain cancer.

Facing Tel Aviv’s City Hall, the tower stands 118.11 feet high (slightly taller than the City Hall building) and was constructed out of more than 500,000 blocks.

The record-setting tower is currently stationed in the middle of Kikar Rabin, the city’s main square. While staring at the tower, one Tel Avivan said, “This what the whole world would look like, if there were no problems.”

A mere 40 miles away, in Jerusalem, the Israeli parliament was dealing with a real-world problem.

There is no word in Hebrew for filibuster since it is not something that usually happens in the Israeli parliament. But for 44 hours, the Israeli Knesset was tied up by a filibuster, orchestrated by a united opposition making a vain attempt to stop what is called the “Recommendations Bill” from passing.

The bill, whose main feature is to stop the police from making a recommendation to the Attorney General in certain criminal cases, is seen by almost every observer as a craven attempt to weaken the police who are investigating Prime Minister Netanyahu on various corruption charges.

The bill was originally promoted by the coalition whip MK David Biton. He, however, was forced to step down from serving as thecoalition whip after the police began interrogating him on suspicion of corruption in a different case.

GettyImages-897731690 Israelis take part in a demonstration titled the 'March of Shame', as they protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and government corruption in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on December 23, 2017. JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty

Biton was replaced by Dudu Amsalem, who had been investigated in the Holy Land case, for which former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and a slew of other officials served prison terms for corruption.

Amsalem and Biton have been among Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s strongest supporters, and have pushed relentlessly for the immediate passage of the Recommendation Bill.

The bill itself has been weakened after large scale public protests, to theoretically not impact cases currently under investigation, and therefore not cover Netanyahu.

However, there is a disagreement on whether this will cover two of what might be the more serious cases that are being investigated. Netanyahu has not yet been questioned as a suspect.

The opposition did what it could to slow down the passage of the bill as the head of opposition, MK Yitzhak Herzog, stated as they ended the filibuster, “The Recommendations Bill is a fight between the culture of democracy and the culture of corruption. This bill is not only an embarrassing bill, it is a bill of weakness. Someone who believes that truth is on his side does not pass a bill like this.”

The bill was finally passed early Thursday morning by a vote of 59-54.

There is growing sense that the new year might bring serious political change in Israel. The general expectations are, with or without the bill, the police will in the course of January recommend that Netanyahu be indicted.

It’s not clear if the recommendation will be just for “breach of trust” or for the stronger crime of bribery, although most observers are expecting that the police will present a clear case of quid pro quo for the gifts that the Netanyahus received and thus recommend that he be indicted for bribery.  

The question being asked is, what next?

Netanyahu gave a bombastic speech last week in which he stated that he expects the police to recommend that he be indicted, that the police planned to indict him all along, and that the police recommendation is not important — since in most cases the attorney general does not follow the recommendation of the police.

His speech was eerily similar to the attacks on the FBI by President Trump.  

Israeli law does not require a prime minister to resign even if indicted, although the consensus is that if the Attorney General (who was appointed by Netanyahu) decides to indict,  the Prime Minister will have to resign.

Netanyahu’s fear is that if the police recommend he be indicted, his coalition partners, especially Minister of Finance Kachlon, will be under pressure to pull out of the coalition.  

Netanyahu has been working to shore up his support, meeting with a group of right-wing Rabbis on Monday to ask for their support. The following day the government allocated $11 million for their settlements.  

It is said that any five senior Likud Ministers would be happy to stand together to call on the Prime Minister to resign, but none would dare be caught talking about the idea alone in the hall.

Netanyahu’s grip on the party and the government is still very strong, but there is a growing sense that the political-legal storm ahead may be too strong even for a politician as skilled as him to survive.

Marc Schulman is a multimedia historian.

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