(February 14, 2018 / Israel Hayom / Exclusive to JNS) After the Israel Police announced Tuesday that it had collected enough evidence to warrant indicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges, reactions quickly fell along partisan lines.
On Wednesday, Habayit Hayehudi Chairman Naftali Bennett 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.
Police on Tuesday 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 on Wednesday, 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.
Other key members of the prime minister’s Likud party rallied behind Netanyahu as well. 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.
She said the biggest surprise was that Yair Lapid, head of the opposition Yesh Atid party and former finance minister, had provided key testimony.
Coalition Chairman MK David Amsalem (Likud) said the police findings amounted to “nothing new because Netanyahu was designated as a target two years ago.”
Amsalem said the police “have done everything in their power to take down their target, and I believe this is an illegitimate process that is a threat to democracy.”
Amasalem also criticized Lapid for providing testimony that supposedly implicated Netanyahu, calling the former finance minister a “lowly snitch.”
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 Tuesday 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.
MK Merav Michaeli (Zionist Union) labeled Monday “a sad day for Israeli democracy” and noted that the opposition demands that Netanyahu step down because of what she called his “attacks” on Israel’s democratic institutions.
MK Yoel Hasson (Zionist Union) wrote a letter Tuesday to the attorney general asking him to set a deadline for a decision on Netanyahu’s legal fate.
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 on Wednesday morning.
“The scope of the corruption is horrifying,” Barak said. “This does not look like nothing. This looks like bribery.”