Has Netanyahu’s End Finally Come?

How Bibi Lost His Grip on Israeli Politics

Netanyahu in Washington, March 2019 Dan Balilty / The New York Times / Redux

Next March, Israelis will head to the polls for the third time in less than a year, and, once again, the vote will amount to a referendum on the rule of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu may now be in the final act of his political career: the Magician, as Israelis used to call their longest-serving prime minister, has lost his erstwhile grip on the political system, having failed twice to form a coalition following last year’s elections. But that Netanyahu is holding on at all, even as he faces indictment on several corruption charges, is remarkable—and a testament to just how much he has transformed Israel’s democracy. 

The vote in March will be the country’s third attempt in a row to form a stable government after two consecutive elections in April and September ended in deadlock. Netanyahu’s centrist challenger, Benny Gantz, came close to forming a majority last time around, and next time he may be in a stronger position still. Even so, Netanyahu is using his endless supply of spins and tricks to lead the news cycle, rally his right-wing base, and keep his opponents nervous. If he does fall—by indictment, through a primary challenge, or at the hands of Gantz—Israel will need some time to recover from his divisive tenure. 


For now, Netanyahu remains in power as the head of a caretaker government supported by a right-wing bloc of conservative and religious parties. His indictment on several counts of bribery and breach of trust, formally unveiled in November after months of speculation, spells trouble, as Netanyahu currently lacks enough votes in parliament to secure immunity from prosecution. Still, any potential trial is several months out and may turn into a protracted legal battle. 

If Netanyahu looks weaker today than he did a year ago, it is also because he is facing, in Gantz, his first serious opponent in a decade. The former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces lacks

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