Is Israel a true democracy

A state in crisis : Practical test of democracy in Israel

This has never happened in Israel's history: Benjamin Netanyahu is the first incumbent head of government to be charged. The accusation: corruption. A resignation is out of the question for Netanyahu. He accuses the authorities of attempting a coup and even calls for an investigation into the investigators - a clear attack on the judiciary.

Netanyahu has long tried to restrict the powers of the judiciary. Many Israelis see it as a scandalous attack on the rule of law and the separation of powers. The next few months could therefore be a real test for democracy.

What is Netanyahu accused of?

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit plans to file three charges of fraud, corruption and breach of trust. The so-called 4000 case weighs particularly heavily. Netanyahu is said to have given telecommunications company Bezeq a competitive edge. In return, owner Shaul Elovitch is said to have ensured that his online news service "Walla" reports more positively about Netanyahu and his family.

In the case of 2000, Netanyahu was accused of negotiating a deal with the editor of the daily Jediot Achronot, Arnon Moses: if the newspaper were more friendly to Netanyahu, he would see to it that the free newspaper “Israel Hayom” had no competition for "Jediot" represent more.

In the 1000 case, Netanyahu is accused of accepting expensive gifts like champagne and cigars from wealthy patrons. In return, the prime minister gave them advantages. Both cases are about corruption and infidelity.

Is Israel's judiciary independent?

Prosecutor General Avichai Mandelblit, who has now brought charges against Netanyahu, has repeatedly had to put up with massive criticism of his work in recent months: From Netanyahu's camp, which accused him of being politically instrumentalized by the left in order to overthrow the prime minister . And from the demonstrators in front of his house, who complained that he was taking too much time with the charges.

But Mandelblit was not confused and not influenced by his former proximity to the head of government. A few years ago that made him cabinet secretary and thus a close confidante. The mere fact that he is now bringing charges against Netanyahu as attorney general shows that Israel's judiciary works and that the highest law enforcement officers are independent of influence.

Unlike in the USA, for example, the office of attorney general in Israel is not a political one. A committee, partly made up of legal experts, draws up a list of candidates. In the end, the entire government appoints the attorney general, not the prime minister alone.

Examples from the past show that other attorneys general in Israel do not shy away from indicting even high-ranking politicians. Former President Moshe Katzav was behind bars for rape.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was convicted of bribery and breach of trust, but - unlike Netanyahu - resigned before charges were brought. Interior Minister Arje Deri was also in prison for accepting bribes. Deri then made it back into politics and currently holds the office of interior minister. This shows that some Israelis forgive their civil servants when it comes to bribery.

Why doesn't Netanyahu have to resign?

For Netanyahu, despite the charges, resigning is out of the question. "I will continue to lead the country, according to the law, responsibly and devotedly, and in the interests of all of us in the future," he said. Legally, he can. No law requires a prime minister to resign if charged.

Legal expert Amir Fuchs from the Israeli Democracy Institute does not completely rule out a forced resignation. After all, the Supreme Court ruled a few years ago that an accused minister cannot and must go no further in his government activities. "There are now people in Israel who petition the Supreme Court," said Fuchs.

How are things going now?

It could be months before Attorney General Mandelblit formally files charges. Because in the next 30 days Netanyahu will be allowed to apply for immunity in the Knesset. To do this, his application must first go through the parliamentary committee.

However, since a new government has not yet come into existence, one does not currently exist. Some Israeli media report that it is therefore first necessary to wait for a new government. Legal scholar

Amir Fuchs sees it differently: If no committee is formed - which would theoretically also be possible now - it should be interpreted as an announcement that the MPs do not want to grant the Prime Minister immunity. “In this case, the attorney general could also file his indictment without a vote,” explains Fuchs. But Mandelblit alone has to decide.

What are the consequences of the indictment for the formation of a government?

No question about it: Israel is in a real crisis, caused by a political stalemate. Neither of the two large party blocs - the center-left camp and the religious right-wing nationalists - has a sufficient majority in parliament, the Knesset.

Neither Netanyahu nor his liberal challenger Benny Gantz has managed to organize a sustainable majority. For the first time in the history of the Jewish state, President Reuven Rivlin has now called on each of the 120 MPs to submit proposals for a head of government from among their ranks. You have 21 days for this. But it is very unlikely that a suitable candidate will be found.

There is therefore much to suggest that the Israelis will soon have to vote on the composition again - the third time within a year. It would cost the taxpayer an estimated $ 750 million. But maybe it won't come to that.

The indictment against Netanyahu opens up some new avenues to end the messy situation. So the incumbent long-term premiere could resign on its own initiative. Then a grand coalition between the Likud and the opposition center alliance Blau-Weiß von Gantz would presumably quickly come about.

He has repeatedly stated that he would like to form a unity government for the good of the country - without Netanyahu, who is suspected of corruption. But this option seems very unlikely at the moment.

Whether Netanyahu can actually stay in office as he intended is not a foregone conclusion. Prominent Likud members such as Netanyahu's rival Gideon Saar are ready to replace “Bibi” at the head of the party. Even then, the political standstill would probably end quickly. Saar is considered a proponent of a unity government. That would be entirely in Reuven Rivlin's sense. The president continues to warn that this is the only way to end the polarization of society. And who Rivlin blames for the poisoned climate is no secret: his former companion Benjamin Netanyahu.

What does the delicate domestic political situation mean for Israel's security?

Regardless of the formation of a government - nothing changes for the Jewish state when it comes to threats. The country is always on alert. Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, Iran and Syria's regime - from Jerusalem's perspective, they are all threats to national security. There is consensus on this across all ideological boundaries.

Netanyahu is certified to live up to his reputation as Mr. Security. But should he have to resign, that does not mean that Israel is defenseless or defenseless. Any prime minister would act like the incumbent on security issues.

Above all, this includes showing the mullahs in Tehran their limits by all means. Hamas and Hezbollah shouldn't rejoice either. Gantz, for example, who until recently was still chief of the army, takes a tough line against Israel's declared enemies. He has repeatedly accused Netanyahu of not acting decisively enough against the Islamists.

Nothing fundamental should change in the close American-Israeli relationship either. President Donald Trump has assured several times that he feels closely connected to the Jewish state. This also applies in the event that his friend "Bibi" no longer runs government affairs.

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