Israelis Call Netanyahu Indictment an ‘Earthquake,’ but Agree on Little Else Israelis Call Netanyahu Indictment an ‘Earthquake,’ but Agree on Little Else
This post was originally published on this site LOD, Israel — Watching Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attack the prosecutors who had just indicted him,... Israelis Call Netanyahu Indictment an ‘Earthquake,’ but Agree on Little Else
This post was originally published on this site

LOD, Israel — Watching Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attack the prosecutors who had just indicted him, watching him beg for compassion for his family’s suffering through years of corruption investigations, Tzion Hagag said he began to question whether the rule of law was really all that worth preserving if it could be so unfair to such a great man.

“We have the best prime minister in the world,” he said. “This democracy, what you call democratic — it’s killing our country. So let there be no democracy.”

His wife, Tami Hagag, 38, who said she was every bit as right-wing as her husband, had already been giving him a scornful look. But this was too much.

“So what, you want a dictatorship?” Ms. Hagag, 38, a pastry chef, interjected. “Enough is enough. He has to go, to free the government for someone else.”

As Israel woke up to a new reality on Friday — its longtime premier now officially a defendant awaiting trial on criminal charges — interviews with voters from across the political spectrum kept landing on the same themes: Sadness. Worry. Disorientation.

One word kept coming up: “Earthquake.”

Mr. Netanyahu is determined to remain in power, but even some rock-solid Netanyahu voters who expressed doubts about the criminal charges said that it was untenable for him to try to continue in office while he defends himself in court. If that view is widely held, it signals a seismic shift in Israeli public opinion.

Many younger Israelis cannot even remember life before the Netanyahu era. Many of his admirers, like Mr. Hagag, a 46-year-old taxi driver, do not want to imagine it ever coming to an end.

“The more people attack him, the closer to him I feel,” he said while shopping with his wife at an outdoor market in downtown Lod’s Commando Square.

Many others, however, are fed up with Mr. Netanyahu, and they welcomed his indictment like an answered prayer, whether out of outrage at the bribes he is accused of taking or out of anger at how he has sought to extend his tenure by inciting Jews against Arabs, right against left.

Lod, the first railway hub of 19th-century Palestine, remains a crossroads of modern-day Israel: The Friday morning market is a melting pot of Jewish and Muslim women in head coverings, old Ethiopians in traditional garb, younger ones in jeans, ultra-Orthodox and Mizrahi men shouting barely decipherable sales pitches, all of them easily mixing in the packed passageways, forgiving the occasional bump.

“Look around here: All the sectors of Israel are here,” said Marach Diab, 22, an Arab security guard, waving her metal-detecting wand toward the stalls stocked with winter socks and cheap electronics. “We all get along very well, but for politicians like him.”

Ms. Diab said she hoped that a new prime minister would address things she said Mr. Netanyahu had ignored, like skyrocketing costs of living that were making it impossible for young people like herself to get started in life.

Mr. Netanyahu’s time was up, she said. “This man can no longer rule us. He’s like any citizen. He’s not God. He’s a man like everybody else.”

The indictment does not legally require Mr. Netanyahu to step down, but it can weaken him at a delicate time in Israeli politics. After inconclusive elections in April and September, neither he nor his opponents have been able to form a governing coalition, which could force a third election.

Within official Israel on Friday, Mr. Netanyahu’s bid to stay in office while awaiting trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust stirred a churn of differing responses.

The centrist Blue and White party, led by Mr. Netanyahu’s chief rival, Benny Gantz, called on the attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, to instruct Mr. Netanyahu to resign, citing a legal precedent requiring an ordinary minister to step down if indicted.

Mr. Mandelblit, who announced the indictment Thursday night, said that he would issue an opinion next week on whether the indictment rendered Mr. Netanyahu ineligible to form a new government.

But a long, if incomplete, list of leading members of Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party expressed their support, as did members of allied right-wing parties.

The transportation minister, Bezalel Smotrich, took up Mr. Netanyahu’s rallying cry against the law-enforcement system. He urged Israelis to “take to the streets” to protest the prime minister’s indictment or risk the onset of a “destructive, violent and dangerous legal dictatorship.”

But another Netanyahu ally, the former justice minister Ayelet Shaked, spoke up for Mr. Mandelblit, calling him “an honest person” who acted on the evidence and with strictly professional motives.

In a precautionary move, Israeli news media reported, security officials had beefed up protections for Mr. Mandelblit and two other top prosecutors overseeing the Netanyahu cases.

In a speech Thursday night, Mr. Netanyahu called upon Israelis to trust him over the prosecutors.

But while many self-described right-wing voters were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, at least to a degree, few were ready to go quite as far as Mr. Netanyahu seemed to be asking.

“It’s a moment of truth for the people and for the legal establishment,” said Yaacov Tzvi, 85, reading the sports pages on the sunny side of a bench in Rehovot, south of Tel Aviv. (“I was trying to ignore the front page,” he said.)

“I have sympathy for him,” Mr. Tzvi said. “He’s contributed so much for Israel, he’s worked hard. But nobody should break the law. Nobody.”

Meni Tveria, 36, said he could not take the prosecution seriously, given that in the worst charge, bribery, Mr. Netanyahu was accused of receiving not cash, but favorable press. “Seriously?” he said, scoffing.

Mr. Tveria cited reports about witnesses being threatened, worried that there was no one in any party who was ready to fill the prime minister’s shoes, and he expressed sympathy for what Mr. Netanyahu called attacks on his wife — who has had her own legal troubles — and son. “Leave his family alone.” Mr. Tveria said.

Yet in spite of such reservations, “this is the end of his road” he said of the prime minister. “He can’t run the country and run off to court once a week.”

Shlomi Ermias, 22, working an electric clipper at his barbershop facing the Lod market, said he favored the right wing, but that Mr. Netanyahu was neglecting the needs of Ethiopian-Israelis like himself.

“He’s looking after his own interests more than the country’s,” Mr. Ermias said. “There are a lot of things he didn’t move forward on. He always knows how to talk. He doesn’t do.”

In Tzur Hadassah, a wooded suburb in the hills south of Jerusalem, Yael Shachar, 43, said she was frightened by Mr. Netanyahu’s response to the charges. Ms. Shachar, a high school teacher who has voted for him before, but supported Blue and White this year, said she feared that many Israelis might be swayed by Mr. Netanyahu’s assault on the justice system.

“When I teach my students, I see that the importance of the law, equality in the eyes of the law and the justice system are things we can’t play around with,” she said. “And when a prime minister uses democratic language to break up democracy, this is truly dangerous.”

Rather than out of control, as Mr. Netanyahu suggested, Israel’s justice system is “brave and honest,” and exceptional in the world, she said.

“If I don’t trust the justice system,” Ms. Shachar added, “then what can I trust?”

Another teacher, Shimon Malul, 53, of Bat Yam, just outside Tel Aviv, said he has always been a right-winger, but lamented that “the citizens always receive the leaders they deserve.”

“Today, the people are self-absorbed, and so is its leadership,” he added.

Recalling the wrenching transitions after Ariel Sharon’s incapacitation and Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, he said Israel would be able to find itself a good prime minister even now, hard as it might seem.

“Leaders come and go,” he said.

Rina Castelnuovo contributed reporting from Lod, Gabby Sobelman from Rehovot and Irit Pazner Garshowitz from Tzur Hadassah.

Source: This post was originally published at New York Times on .

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