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Israelis prepare for 2nd election as Netanyahu faces corruption charges

Israelis head to the polls this week for the second time this year, due to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's failure to achieve a critical parliamentary coalition after the April elections. Netanyahu has enjoyed historic popularity, but this vote comes as he faces corruption charges. Special correspondent Ryan Chilcote reports on the election's potential to reshape Israel's political landscape.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Israelis head to the polls again this week for the second national election in less than a year. Their vote will potentially reshape the country's political landscape.

    At stake, Benjamin Netanyahu's place as the country's longest serving prime minister.

    Special correspondent Ryan Chilcote is there with the story.

  • Hadar Dor-On:

    Being here in the vineyards makes me feel far enough from politics. I'm a sad Israeli these days, because I don't see values.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Hadar Dor-On is a fifth-generation farmer and winemaker. He has always voted for Likud, the party most aligned with his Zionist views, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This time, he has reservations.

    What do you think about Benjamin Netanyahu?

  • Hadar Dor-On:

    He's very intelligent. He's very clever. So it looks so fine, it looks so good. But it isn't. So many suspicions.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Jerusalem's main market is a busy, festive place. Long gone are the days of suicide bombings. The economy has been strong. And yet, when it comes to politics, there's division and deadlock.

    After Israel's longest serving prime minister failed to build the necessary coalition in Parliament and form a government after elections in April, Netanyahu called for another one just one month before he's to face legal proceedings for bribery and breach of trust.

    The Mahane Yehuda Market is a stronghold of support for the Likud Party and Benjamin Netanyahu himself, but the allegations of corruption that have dogged this prime minister for years may be chipping away at that support, just like the tactics his critics say he uses to stay in power. Whether those concerns are enough to topple him, that's something this election will show.

    Netanyahu is, by far, Israel's most popular politician, but his party is leaving nothing to chance. Today, they're out rallying the troops. Gilad Erdan is Netanyahu's minister for public security. Some voters could be put off by the allegations against the prime minister, he says, but Netanyahu is innocent until proven guilty.

    We have talked to a lot of Likud supporters. They say everything that Likud is doing is great. They have an issue with the prime minister and the allegations of corruption. What do you say to that?

  • Gilad Erdan:

    We have to remember that all the achievements of the Likud and the government in the last decade was under the leadership of Prime Minister Netanyahu. This is — we have to respect the principles of democracy. They voted for him to lead the Likud and the country.

    And he strengthened the state of Israel. Unless he will be convicted in a final verdict, he can continue to run the country.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Israel's once-dominant left-wing parties have been sidelined, but members of one turn up. As the two collide, it becomes clear just how heated Israeli politics can get.

    Laura Wharton is a member of the city council.

  • Laura Wharton:

    He attacks the justice system. He attacks the free press. He attacks his own message. And he's ruining the basic democracy.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Netanyahu's biggest challenge in this election comes from this man. Benny Gantz served as Netanyahu's military chief of staff until just before the April election, when he and the Blue and White Party he leads sprang onto the political stage and got the same number of seats in Parliament as Likud.

    His supporters say it's time for another kind of politics without Netanyahu.

  • Marina Smolyanov:

    At this point, he is all about survival, his personal political survival. I think Benny Gantz, he represents the new style of leadership, a leadership of values, of fair morals, of ethics.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Not to be outdone, Netanyahu, too, was in the limelight, holding a Cabinet meeting in the Jordan Valley, an area that accounts for a full third of the West Bank.

    Just days after announcing Israel will annex the occupied territory after the election, he declared the government will also add another settlement to the more than 130 Israel already has.

  • Gideon Rahat:

    You want me a prophet. OK. Yes, in Jerusalem, after — we're not allowed to be prophets anymore.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Hebrew University's Professor Gideon Rahat has been watching Israeli elections for more than two decades, but don't ask him who will come out on top. It may not even be up to them.

  • Gideon Rahat:

    I think that seeing the election in Israel as only a horse race is a mistake, because, at the end of the day, the third horse, the small horse, might decide what the two big horses will do at the end of the day.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    That small horse and potential kingmaker is Avigdor Lieberman and his right-wing secular party, Yisrael Beiteinu.

    A former bouncer, Lieberman became something akin to Netanyahu's personal assistant, then did stints as foreign and defense minister, before breaking ranks. After the last election in April, Lieberman declined to join a Netanyahu-led coalition with the ultra-orthodox religious parties, leaving his former boss short of the seats needed to form a government, a first in the history of Israel.

    Ynon Shahar is a Lieberman volunteer. The objective, he says, is to force Likud into a government of national unity.

  • Ynon Shahar:

    What kind of government will we have? Will our prime minister be, you know — hold hostage by ultra-right parties or ultra-orthodox parties? Or will we have governance of the majority of the people who can do good for the majority of Israel?

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Israeli Arabs may also have a hand in shaping the next government. They make up a sixth of the electorate, but many abstain from voting. If they turn out in larger numbers, they will weaken Netanyahu's hand.

    General Amos Yadlin headed Israel's military intelligence. Today, he runs the nation's most influential think tank on national security. When it comes to Israel's relations with the Palestinians and Israel's adversaries, there's little disagreement amongst the candidates.

    What's at stake in this election?

  • Amos Yadlin:

    Let me tell you what is not at stake in this election. Most of Israelis agreed on Iran. There is no left and right on Iran. Most of the Israelis agreed on how to deal with Hezbollah. There is no left and right on it. Most of the Israeli agree on Gaza.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    That hard line is popular with most Israelis. It's also supported by President Trump, something Netanyahu likes to highlight any chance he gets.

  • Gideon Rahat:

    In Israel, it is smart, because Trump is seen as the best friend of Israel. What I mean, with his recognition of our annexation of the Golan Heights, moving the embassy to Jerusalem, all of these things are seen by many Israelis as very good signs for the best friend we ever had.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Likud's top leaders are out rallying the nation's farmers. No mention of the corruption allegations here. Many voters already have an opinion.

    In a recent poll, 52 percent of Israelis said they trust the legal system; 34 percent agree with Netanyahu, who claims the courts are out to get him.

  • Becky Burger:

    I checked it, and it's all b.s. Sorry about that.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    Do you ever get sick of wine?

    Back on his vineyard north of Tel Aviv, Hadar Dor-On isn't so sure, but the veteran Likud supporter says he will put his ideology first.

  • Hadar Dor-On:

    I hope very much it's all fake news.

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    But you have your concerns?

  • Hadar Dor-On:

    I'm worried. I'm a father first of all. I'm a father who grows grandchildren and children in what country? In a corrupted one or in an honest one?

  • Ryan Chilcote:

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Ryan Chilcote in Binyamina, Israel.

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