JERUSALEM—While leaders of the Blue and White Party have called on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign following the Attorney General’s announcement to indict him for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, the Prime Minister replied that ‘’only the voters will decide if I remain in office, not bureaucrats.’’
Benny Gantz, the main contender to Netanyahu in the April elections, said: “Netanyahu, I say to you this evening, come to your senses and display national responsibility and resign. If and when your innocence is proven, you will be able to return to the public arena with your head held high. I expect that you will conduct your battle as a private individual and I wish you success.”
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid said, despite the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “Cannot continue in his position … a prime minister is a symbol and a symbol must not be tarnished. It is unthinkable that any head of state, any president, who meets with him will know that he is not talking to the prime minister of Israel but rather to someone accused of severe bribery charges whose time is limited. This does not evoke respect for us in the world.”
Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg said that Netanyahu must announce that he will not run in the elections, resign, and attend to his trial. She said: “This is a case of criminal behaviour and criminal codes and members of the Netanyahu family are threatening to drown the entire country.”
Netanyahu’s coalition partners expressed their support. Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett of the New Right party said that the Prime Minister has a presumption of innocence, and that: “We respect the attorney general’s decision, but as the attorney general said in his own words that he will come to the hearing with ‘an open heart and a willing soul,’ so will we wait for the end of the hearing.”
Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman said : “Filing an indictment subject to a hearing is not a final judgment. Therefore, as far as we are concerned, the prime minister is entitled to run in the Knesset elections like any other candidate.”
On Thursay, Netanyahu gave a very political speech from the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, focusing on the timing of the charges and arguing that they are meant to bring down the Right, repeatedly using the phrase “witch hunt.”
He opened by talking about his recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and comments US President Donald Trump made overnight Wednesday, calling him tough and smart. He argued that he and the Likud have made Israel stronger than ever before.
“These connections are not to be taken for granted,” Netanyahu said. “The Left knows they cannot compete with these achievements in the voting booth, so they put massive pressure on the attorney-general to indict even though there is nothing, in order to influence the elections and put the Left in charge.”
Netanyahu expressed confidence that most voters won’t be influenced by the announcement, but said that even if it influences a few not to vote for him, it will bring the Left to power.
As for the timing, 40 days before the April 9 election, Netanyahu said “every citizen knows this is outrageous and meant to bring down the Right.
He talked about the “seven circles of hell” his family has been through in recent years. He specifically referred to an accusation that he tried to have an article about his son dating a non-Jewish Norwegian woman removed from Walla, saying: “What father wouldn’t defend his son?”
“It all began when they accused my wife and I of six cases of bribery. It’s a house of cards that will collapse. Five of those six cases already fell apart – and the rest will, too. They’ll be like dust; they won’t be remembered,” he said.
This week, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced his intention to indict the Prime Minister on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in the three corruption cases against him.
He will be charged, pending a hearing, with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Case 4000, and with fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000 and Case 2000. Netanyahu is innocent until proven guilty. He is not required to resign and can compete in the 9 April elections.
In a 57-page ‘announcement of suspicions,’ the Attorney General said Netanyahu: “Hurt the image of public service and public faith in it”. He added: “You [Netanyahu] acted in a conflict of interests, you abused your authority while taking into account other considerations that relate to your personal interests and the interests of your family. You corrupted public servants working under you.”
In Case 4000, considered the most serious case, Netanyahu is accused of advancing regulatory concessions to Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Bezeq telecommunications, in exchange for favourable news reports in the Walla news website, which is also owned by Elovitch. Netanyahu is suspected of taking bribes and acting in a conflict of interest, including Bezeq’s merger with the satellite TV company Yes.
According to the police investigation, from 2012 to 2017 Netanyahu and his associates “blatantly intervened” on a near-daily basis in the Walla news website, using their connections with Elovitch, and his wife Iris, to influence appointments there and to promote flattering articles and pictures while dropping critical stories.
According to a Yisrael Hayom/i24 News poll, Blue and White party is predicted to win 38 seats, Likud 29 seats, United Right list 9 seats, New Right 8 seats, Labour 7 seats, Hadash-Ta’al 7 seats, Shas 6 seats, UTJ 6 seats, Meretz 6 seats, and Kulanu 4 seats.