May 24, 2024
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After the Israel Police announced this week that it had collected enough evidence to warrant indicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges, reactions quickly fell along partisan lines.

Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett immediately criticized the prime minister for not “living up to the standards that Israelis expect,” but stressed that Netanyahu is “presumed innocent until proven guilty.”

“A prime minister doesn’t have to be perfect, but he should serve as a role model, and unfortunately, this is not commensurate with accepting gifts on such a large scale,” Bennett said after the police concluded that Netanyahu had accepted a million shekels (almost $300,000) worth of potentially illicit gifts.

Bennett said he would make a decision on whether his party will remain in Netanyahu’s coalition only after the attorney general decides whether or not to adopt the police recommendation and file a formal indictment.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan remarked that while he fully supports the police—who are under his ministry’s command—following the recommendation to indict Netanyahu, the prime minister is “innocent until proven guilty” and only the attorney general can determine whether or not he should stand trial.

“The police submitted their recommendations and their job in this matter is effectively over,” Erdan said. “Neither the public, nor the media or the politicians will be the ones that will determine [whether or not Netanyahu will stand trial], but as is the case with elected officials, only the attorney general’s decision will determine if there is enough evidence to serve an indictment.”

Police said the evidence gathered by investigators in two cases suggested Netanyahu was involved in soliciting and accepting bribes, as well as fraud and breach of trust.

Case 1000 centers on gifts Netanyahu and his wife Sara, are said to have received from Israeli businessman Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer.

Case 2000 focuses on an illicit deal Netanyahu allegedly tried to strike with Yedioth Ahronot publisher Noni Mozes, whereby the Israeli newspaper would soften its aggressive anti-Netanyahu stance in exchange for the prime minister working to pass legislation that would help the newspaper financially, and use his influence to curtail Israel Hayom, Yedioth’s chief competitor.

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman echoed Bennett’s views, saying that “there is no doubt that the prime minister can continue serving … so long as he has not been convicted by a court.”

Lieberman said that unlike his own experience of being reappointed as minister after being acquitted in court, the job of prime minister does not remain vacant during the trial. “If a prime minister is forced to step down, this means there is a change of government,” he said.

Prime Minister Netanyahu came out swinging in the aftermath of the recommendations, defiantly saying he would not resign and predicting that he would be re-elected for a fifth term as prime minister towards the end of 2019.

In a televised speech to the nation, Netanyahu repeated his long-standing insistence that “nothing is going to come of this, because nothing happened,” and said he would continue to work to secure the country’s future.

“I believe this government will go the distance,” he said. “I and our terrific ministers will continue to work to make Israel into a global military, economic and technological superpower.”

He stated that the police recommendation to indict him was “as full of holes as Swiss cheese,” and repeated his assertion that the governing coalition would complete its current term, scheduled to expire by November, 2019.

Netanyahu stressed that he has often been the subject of corruption allegations since first becoming prime minister in 1996 – and has been exonerated every time. “That’s why you—the people of this country—have elected me, again and again,” he said.

Addressing the charges at hand, the prime minister said the facts of each case illustrated the opposite of the allegations against him because he acted against the interests of the individuals with whom he is accused of colluding.

“All of those times began—like tonight—with huge media headlines. And like those times, I am telling you: This time, too, nothing will come out of all this,” he said.

Other key members of the prime minister’s Likud party rallied behind Netanyahu. Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev said she was “not excited” by the police recommendations and urged patience while the attorney general reviews the case.

Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) said, “Our coalition is stable with or without the recommendations. The way to make a fateful decision about a prime minister is not via police recommendations, but rather through the attorney general’s decision.”

Coalition Whip David Amsallem (Likud) accused police of deciding to indict Netanyahu two years ago and fired “dozens of arrows” in the hope that one of them would hit the target. “This is an illegitimate process that endangers every democratic country in the world. In a democracy, regimes are replaced at the ballot box, not by the army or the police. No democratic country in the world would have dared or ever think of summoning an incumbent prime minister and questioning him about whether he had accepted bottles of wine or cigars from a friend. Where will this all stop?”

MK Yariv Levin (Likud) said Lapid was trying to “gain [political] power by way of unreliable testimony and by attempting a coup in defiance of the voters’ will.”

Shortly after the police made their recommendations public, Lapid issued a statement calling on Netanyahu to resign. “Someone with such serious accusations against them, many of which he does not even deny, cannot continue to serve as prime minister and uphold their responsibility for the security and well-being of Israel’s citizens,” Lapid said, noting that he agreed to testify against Netanyahu because it was the right thing to do, not for personal gain.

“Investigators asked me to testify on events during my term as finance minister, and just as every law-abiding citizen would do, I agreed,” he said. He added that his testimony focused on Milchan’s alleged efforts to pressure Netanyahu into passing legislation that would help him financially.

Nachman Shai (Zionist Union) commented, “We are facing an earthquake, and from the time the recommendations are published, we will all be partners in a long, exhausting process that will shake the foundations (of this country). In light of these recommendations, decisions will be made, changes will be made. We no longer know where things are going, but it is clear that Israel after the recommendations cannot be conducted in the the same way as Israel before the recommendations.”

Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) said, “And so, another prime minister goes to jail. The end of the Netanyahu story… This is a sad day for democracy. Netanyahu has lost the moral authority to govern and must resign now. If he doesn’t, all 66 members of the coalition should stand up and say – enough is enough.”

Dov Hanin (Joint List) added, “When the police determine that a prime minister has taken bribes, it is impossible to know what (other) red lines he will cross while all the power still resides in his hands. A prime minister suspected of bribery must suspend himself immediately. Netanyahu has no moral and public mandate to make decisions on any issue from this moment on.”

Hebrew University political scientist Abraham Diskin, in a conference call with The Israel Project, said that the recommendations submitted by the Israeli Police do not necessarily mean that Netanyahu will even be indicted, and even if the Attorney General chooses to indict, the Supreme Court would still have the final say in the matter as per Israeli law. “The Prime Minister has to resign only after there is a final decision of the court,” Diskin said.

However, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who has recently mounted a campaign to unseat Netanyahu, called on the prime minister to suspend himself and for the coalition to appoint a replacement.“The scope of the corruption is horrifying,” Barak said. “This does not look like nothing. This looks like bribery.”

By JNS and combined sources

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