Israeli police this week recommended that Benjamin Netanyahu be indicted on federal charges of bribery and breach of trust in two political corruption cases. This deals a strong blow to the prime minister and will probably bring calls for his resignation.
Netanyahu has angrily denied the corruption allegations, which include accepting $300,000 in gifts from two billionaires. He has accused the Israeli police of being on a witch hunt and vowed he would stay in office and eventually be reelected.
He told the press he will continue to lead Israel as responsibly as possible, and as long as the people of Israel allow him to do so. He added that the truth will eventually come out and he is sure the next election for prime minister will happen on time and that he will win the people’s trust again.
The recommendations for prosecuting the prime minister have marked an ending to the year long investigation into suspicions that Netanyahu accepted gifts from Arnon Milchan, a Hollywood mogul, and the Australian billionaire James Packer. There also are allegations that he offered preferential treatment to a newspaper publisher to receive positive coverage.
The recommendations will now be sent to Attorney General Avihai Mendelblit. He will review the allegations before he decides to file federal charges. Netanyahu can stay in office during this process, which will take months. Israeli law states that he only must step down if he is convicted of a crime, and that conviction is upheld through a lengthy appeals process to the High Court; this could take years.
But with a legal cloud hanging over him, Netanyahu could soon be hearing calls for his resignation. During a similar situation 10 years ago, Netanyahu as an opposition leader, urged Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to resign when he was being investigated by the police. He said that a leader who was being investigated for serious crimes could not properly govern.
In the aftermath of the police investigation announcement, the reactions were largely on partisan lines. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who was a bitter Netanyahu opponent, called on the prime minister to suspend himself and for the government to appoint a replacement this week.
Barak said the level of corruption was horrifying and shocking, noting that the accusations sounded very much like bribery. But key members of the Likud Party, who support Netanyahu, rallied behind him with vigor. Cabinet Minister Miri Regev stated that she was not interested in the police recommendations and urged the public to be patient while the AG reviewed the corruption case.
Regev stated that the biggest surprise was that Yair Lapid, who is the leader of the opposition party Yesh Atid, had been a witness. David Amsalem, who is also a Netanyahu confident, stated that Lapid is a snitch. Lapid issued a statement later calling for the prime minister to resign.
Lapid said that someone with such serious allegations against them, many of which he is not even denying, cannot keep serving as the prime minister with responsibility for the citizens of the country.
In its statement, the police stated that they found enough evidence to indict Netanyahu in the first case, which is called File 1000, for taking bribes, breach of trust and fraud. The case states that the PM accepted gifts of $214,000 from Milchan and $71,000 from Packer. The gifts that Milchan gave him may have included cigars and champagne.
Police added that in return, the PM had operated on behalf of the billionaire on US visa matters. He also reportedly legislated a tax break and connected him with Indian businessmen. It also said that he assisted Milchan, who is an Israel film producer who worked on JFK and Pretty Woman.
In the second case called File 2000, Netanyahu was supposedly recorded asking the publisher of the Yediot Ahronot Daily, for good coverage in exchange for promoting laws that would weaken a free newspaper that had damaged the newspaper’s market share.
Police said there is enough evidence at this time to charge both billionaires with bribery. However, Milchan’s defense team told the media that the bribe charge would not hold up. The defense added that the relationship with the PM went back more than 15 years, before he was prime minister and the men and their families had been close for years.
Netanyahu is a major supporter of President Trump and police recommendations against the PM could weaken him as the White House is working on a proposal for Middle East peace.
In a TV address, Netanyahu reported that in his 30 year political career, which included being the ambassador for the US, and several Cabinet posts, he was only serving the Israeli public and never himself.
He did admit that he helped Milchan with visa problems, but he stressed that Milchan had done a lot for Israel and said that Shimon Peres had also been close to the billionaire. Netanyahu also said over the years he had made political decisions that had hurt Milchan’s business interests in Israel.
Netanyahu dismissed the notion that he would act for Milchan’s benefit for boxes of cigars. He stated that scandals in the past had all ended with no charges against him, and he predicted that the same would happen this time.
But the police investigation has gained considerable steam in the last several months. The PM has claimed that he is being victimized by an overaggressive police force and a media that is out to get him.
Netanyahu has been in office for nine years, and his family has gotten involved in several possible scandals in the past year. Recordings came out recently of his wife screaming at an aide, and another recording caught his oldest son out drunk at strip clubs in Tel Aviv while being driven in a government car with a bodyguard paid by the government. The man ended up spending the night in a very expensive Tel Aviv apartment.