Think the Netanyahu corruption allegations will change Israel? Think again.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech in Ramat Gan, Israel, Mar 4. (photo: Amir Cohen / Reuters)
If the corruption allegations push just enough voters to the opposition bloc, Israel is most likely to get another right-leaning government — without Netanyahu.

By Gershom Gorenberg | The Washington Post | Mar 8, 2019

When political division are wide, when parties become tribes, corruption has less effect. Psychologist and Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman has written about the flaw in human minds that makes people devalue a proposal coming from the other side in a conflict. The same applies to allegations: If you think they come from your political adversaries, you devalue them.

“You conveyed demands to post positive news items about yourself, your wife, Sara Netanyahu, and members of your family, and photographs of you . . . [and] to publish items with political messages that you desired to disseminate to the public.”

This is one snippet of Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s warning to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he’s likely to be indicted on bribery and other corruption charges. The full document, released publicly, is 57 pages long, all written in stinging second person: “You . . . you . . . you.” Netanyahu’s demands, as listed by the attorney general, were directed to telecom tycoon Shaul Elovitch, whose holdings included Walla, one of Israel’s top two news websites.

The demands seem to have been fulfilled. In return for getting a remote control over the news — so Mandelblit alleges — Netanyahu made regulatory decisions that put hundreds of millions of dollars in Elovitch’s pocket. The paeans to Netanyahu reached their crescendo on each of the past two election days in Israel. The payoffs to Elovitch were apparently meant to tip the elections.

You might think that allegations such as these, from an incredibly cautious prosecutor, backed by mountains of evidence, would be enough to tip the next Israeli election against Netanyahu. You might hope that with Netanyahu’s exit, Israeli policy will shift leftward on the issue most essential to the country’s future — peace with the Palestinians and ending the occupation.

I’d also like to think and hope those things, but both are overly optimistic. Corruption, by itself, can be insufficient to swing an election. And if Netanyahu goes, the next Israeli government may show more personal integrity — but just as much intransigence.

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