Opinion - Politics

Netanyahu indictment and the Trump impeachment process are both the products of democracy's failures

Key Points
  • President Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are facing impeachment and indictment efforts, respectively, just as national elections for both of them loom around the corner, writes Jake Novak.
President Donald J. Trump (R) and Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu (L) deliver remarks to members of the news media during their meeting in the Oval Office of the White House March 25, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Michael Reynolds | Getty Images

Israel's prime minister has now been formally indicted for bribery and corruption. Benjamin Netanyahu is calling the charges against him false and part of a coup attempt.

Sound familiar?

There are a lot of differences between Israel's parliamentary democracy and the American republic. But both nations are now in the midst of long-running attempts by the left to unseat their leaders based on charges of illegal conduct. Correspondingly, both President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu are facing these efforts just as national elections for both of them loom around the corner.

But not everything is similar in this scenario. Because while both Trump and Netanyahu are extremely polarizing figures in their home countries, Israel is not beset by a real left-right partisan divide.

In election after election since the so-called "Second Intifada" began in 2000, the Israeli public has continued to blame the political left for allowing the security situation to deteriorate. Virtually every Israeli either lost a close friend or relative in those Palestinian suicide bombing campaigns. So beginning with the late Ariel Sharon's election as prime minister in 2001, every election in Israel has seen the majority of the votes going to a combination of right wing or center-right parties. That doesn't mean the Israeli people aren't divided over a lot of political issues. But when it comes to the most crucial issue of security, there is no significant divide in the Israeli electorate.

This holds true even when you include the results two national elections Israel has held already this year. Israeli political math is a little tricky, because while Arab-Israelis can and do vote with equal voting rights, Arab-Israeli party members of the parliament have never agreed and will likely never agree to join with any sitting government. So the percentages of seats in the parliament can only fairly be counted based on all the other seats.

With that in mind, note that in the April national election, center-right Israeli parties took 59% of the parliamentary seats not including those Arab parties. In the September "do over" election, the opposition Blue & White Party got one more seat than Likud to claim the title of the top vote-getter. But again, the center-right Israeli parties took 59% of all the non-Arab party seats. So all the Likud Party seemingly has to do is replace Netanyahu with another right wing leader and then complete the easier task of forming a government with someone so many Israelis don't personally object to.

Here's the problem: because Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister, has no clear successor in his own party, that clear majority of Israelis who support more right wing policies are left hanging.

Much of this is nobody but Netanyahu's own fault. For a myriad of reasons, including what appear to be jealousy and paranoia, he has groomed a number of capable successors but has fallen out with each of them. In addition to some of those Blue & White Party leaders, those former proteges are on the mastheads of almost every other center-right party in Israel. They include people like Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Liberman, and New Right Party leaders Naftali Bennett and Ayalet Shaked.

Because of the Israeli left's long-running failures at the polls, Netanyahu's "coup attempt" claims can't be dismissed completely. But even if some kind of anti-Netanyahu political sentiment has unfairly goosed this indictment process along, it doesn't change the fact that it will be much harder for him to govern under this indictment cloud.

There is some precedent in Israeli history for Netanyahu to step down even as he vehemently asserts his innocence. That's what Yitzhak Rabin did during his first tenure as prime minister in the 1970s after it was revealed he and his wife held small, but technically illegal, bank accounts in the U.S. It was never a really serious charge, but Rabin ultimately felt he couldn't juggle the legal fight and his leadership duties. Three years before that, then-Prime Minister Golda Meir resigned after official government reports found her government had made serious errors that led to Israel's lack of preparation for the Yom Kippur War. Meir never agreed with most of those conclusions, but she knew she couldn't continue to govern effectively in the face of them.

On the other side, the problem for Gantz and his Blue & White Party is this: what if these indictments do their job for them? Will the Israeli voters still feel the need to vote for a party bent primarily on getting rid of Netanyahu if the legal charges do it anyway?

Again, here we have another similarity with the American political situation. It's hard to deny the current impeachment process against President Trump has taken a lot of air out of the remaining Democratic presidential candidates' efforts to grab more attention for themselves. They all know the anti-Trump voters likely support this impeachment process and will vote for one of them. But how can any of them get the attention needed to be the nominee in the midst of so much focus on impeachment in the year before Election Day?

More than anything else, the word to describe the political situations in both countries is "failure."

The partisan divide in America has at least partially fed into murky impeachment efforts by the parties out of the White House twice in the last 20 years. In Israel, the failure to form a viable coalition government and Netanyahu's failure to set up a viable successor has led to an ongoing political impasse on top of an indictment controversy. It's all just the latest evidence that democratic governments are rarely defeated by foreign invaders. Rather, they usually just end up destroying themselves.

Jake Novak is a political and economic analyst at Jake Novak News and former CNBC TV producer. You can follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.