Taube: Netanyahu has been indicted, but that doesn’t mean he’ll lose the election

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL photo)

Israelis will head to the polls for the third time in a year on March 2. I’ve already endorsed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud in two previous columns, and my position of support remains intact.

What I’d like to tackle in this column is whether or not Netanyahu’s recent indictment will have any effect on the electorate.

The Israeli PM had been dogged by several investigations since 2017, the most significant being “Case 1000” and “Case 2000.” The allegations reportedly include conflict of interest, fraud and accepting gifts or bribes. Several individuals and newspapers have been caught in this storm, too.

Last November, Netanyahu was charged in three corruption cases related to bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He requested immunity from any prosecution until the legislative election was over. When his right-leaning coalition partners announced they were going to boycott the proceedings in the Knesset, he withdrew it.

Avichai Mandelblit, Israel’s attorney general, officially filed the indictment on Jan. 28. A court ruling could be several months or years away.

From a communications and public relations perspective, this situation is less than ideal for Netanyahu and Likud. Anything resembling a dark cloud of controversy has the potential to dramatically change hearts and minds, especially with potential voters who are either independent or on the political fence.

Yet, I’m not convinced this indictment is going to cause a major shift in voting behaviour.

Irrespective of what you think about Netanyahu, it goes without saying that he’s innocent until proven guilty. That’s the case for any judicial matter in a democratic society. The courts will ultimately decide his fate.

It’s also worth pointing out Likud supporters voted 72 per cent in favour of his leadership in late December. Considering everything he was facing at that time, it was viewed as an overwhelming endorsement of support. The chances of an abrupt leadership coup within the Likud party caucus are therefore slim to none.

Meanwhile, we live in a world where there’s a growing skepticism with authority figures, including politicians and judges. Society’s critical eye is beginning to focus more on the institution than the individual. While this isn’t necessarily a good thing, it’s something we have to be aware of – and accept as being part of the puzzle.

That’s why Israeli voters will likely not be swayed in one direction or the other by this indictment. Many have already made up their minds for the third time, and appear to be standing pat. (Even Netanyahu’s joint announcement with U.S. President Donald Trump with the latter’s Middle East peace plan, which happened on the same day he was indicted in Israel, has barely shifted the political needle.)

The polls seem to reflect this, too.

Benny Gantz and Blue and White have held a small lead over Netanyahu and Likud since last October. The former is projected to win between 33-36 seats using February 2020 data, while the latter is projected to win between 32-34 seats.

When you factor in the coalition partners, the totals are fairly consistent with the April 2019 and September 2019 election results. Likud, along with Shas, United Torah Judaism and Yamina, are projected to win between 55-57 seats. Blue and White, along with the Joint List and Labor, are projected to win between 56-59 seats.

A majority of 61 seats is required in the Knesset. If Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu stays out of a coalition government (again), and Likud and Blue and White can’t create some sort of grand coalition (again), guess what’s going to happen?   

Things can obviously change before Israelis go to the ballot boxes. Last-minute electoral shifts have occurred in many countries around the world. But the way things currently stand, Netanyahu’s indictment won’t lead him to either victory or defeat when all the votes have been counted.