(February 28, 2019 / JNS) With less than six weeks before Israel’s general elections on April 9, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced on Thursday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be indicted in all three ongoing corruption cases against him, including bribery in the Bezeq corruption investigation.
In two other cases, Mandelblit will charge Netanyahu with a count each of breach of trust.
“Israel is a state of laws, and we respect the legal system,” former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Dore Gold told JNS shortly before the announcement. “At the same time, most Israelis recognize Prime Minister Netanyahu’s extraordinary contribution to the security and safety to the State of Israel.”
“So we hope those making these charges will work expeditiously, and we hope that the prime minister will be proven to be innocent, and we get back to the world of diplomacy and the security of the state,” he added.
The announcement marks the first time in Israeli history that a sitting prime minister has been informed that he will face criminal charges. This is expected to cast a cloud over Netanyahu’s chances of being re-elected to a position he has held for a decade.
Known as Case 4000, Netanyahu is accused of trading favorable government treatment of the Bezeq communications company in exchange for positive coverage on the Walla news site, both owned by Shaul Elovitch, who will, along with the prime minister, reportedly be charged with bribery.
The two other cases include an attempted deal between Yediot Achronot newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes and Netanyahu to decrease circulation of rival Israel Hayom in exchange for more positive coverage, known as Case 2000. Mozes will be charged with bribery.
The other, Case 1000, accuses Netanyahu of receiving gifts from Hollywood film producer Arnon Milchan and Australian businessman James Packer that included champagne, jewelry and cigars, altogether worth tens of thousands of dollars. As Netanyahu accepted Milchan’s gifts, he apparently acted on the Israeli-born producer’s behalf in the telecommunications realm; for his part, Netanyahu has said he was just accepting gifts from a friend.
As such, Netanyahu can request a hearing to contest the indictment, a process that could take up to a year. Israeli law only requires that a prime minister step down if he is convicted.
Netanyahu has denied all allegations against him.
“Mandelblit’s announced intent to indict Netanyahu on charges of bribery and breach of trust inserts law-enforcement officials into the political arena in an unprecedented way and on a very shaky legal foundation,” said Avi Bell, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Jerusalem-based Kohelet Policy Forum, a professor of law at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan and at the University of San Diego, as well as a visiting fellow at Harvard Law School’s Project on the Foundations of Private Law.
“If the legal theories that the Attorney General is introducing against Netanyahu become general law, a considerable part of the democratic life of Israel will have to pass through police interrogation rooms,” he continued. “If they remain restricted to Netanyahu, the partisanship will permanently damage public trust in the Israeli legal system.”