Election bombshell: Israeli Attorney General plans to indict Benjamin Netanyahu, but process may take another year
Announcement may change Netanyahu’s chances of winning the April 9 elections, but it’s not clear in which direction.
For several years Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin has been the subject of investigation for alleged corruption, charges he denies. There was a lot of speculation as to whether he would be indicted prior to the April 9 elections.
The Israeli Attorney General just announced plans to indict Netanyahu under a procedure that could take up to a year to play out just to decide whether there will be an indictment. The Attorney General thus created all the political fallout of an indictment, without an actual indictment.
Considering that Netanyahu has been a towering figure on the Israeli and international landscape for decades, and particularly the past decade, the planned indictment has national security implications for Israel. Netanyahu has spearheaded the effort against Iran both diplomatically and militarily, and he has the international stature that no other Israeli leader has. Under his guidance, Israel has expanded official relationships with numerous countries, including in Africa. There also are unofficial expanded relationships with Arab countries.
In all, the stakes are much higher than a mere election. That may weigh on Israeli voters.
The Times of Israel reports:
In a decision that drastically shakes up Israeli politics less than six weeks before general elections, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced Thursday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be charged with criminal wrongdoing in three separate cases against him, including bribery in the far-reaching Bezeq corruption probe, pending a hearing….
Netanyahu will be charged with fraud and breach of trust in Cases 1000 and 2000, and bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Case 4000, unless he can persuade Mandelblit to reconsider in the course of the hearing process.
The attorney general detailed the allegations in a 57-page document that was released on Thursday evening.
Mandelblit, in his decision, wrote that according to suspicions the prime minister “damaged the image of the public service and public trust in it” and is suspected of abusing his position and status, and of “knowingly taking a bribe as a public servant in exchange for actions related to your position.” …
The Times of Israel further explains the nature of the three cases, which are not your typical bribery or corruptions fact patterns:
In Case 1000, involving accusations that Netanyahu received gifts and benefits from billionaire benefactors including Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan in exchange for favors, Mandelblit said he intends to charge Netanyahu with fraud and breach of trust — the latter being a somewhat murkily defined offense relating to an official violating the trust the public has placed in him. Milchan is not to be charged.
In Case 2000, involving accusations Netanyahu agreed with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes to weaken a rival daily in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth, Mandelblit will seek to also charge the premier with fraud and breach of trust, while Mozes will be charged with bribery. The case is said to have been a contentious one in Mandelblit’s office, with many prosecution officials reportedly arguing that Netanyahu should be charged with bribery, while Mandelblit considered not charging the prime minister at all.
In Case 4000, widely seen as the most serious against the premier, Netanyahu is accused of having advanced regulatory decisions that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in the Bezeq telecom giant, in exchange for positive coverage from the Elovitch-owned Walla news site. In that case Mandelblit announced he intends to charge Netanyahu with fraud and breach of trust, and both Netanyahu and Elovitch with bribery.
Haaretz provides this chart of the charges:
The Jerusalem Post reports on the reaction from the Likud Party, which Netanyahu heads:
“No one was surprised by the attorney-general’s decision, which came after three years of intense pressure on him from the press, the Left and the legal establishment to indict him at any price, even if there is nothing behind it,” the Likud said in a statement. “All that mattered to them was to do it before the election.” …
The party noted that there had been four cases and bribery charges had been pursued in all four but the indictment pending a hearing was for only one of them. The Likud predicted that the fourth would be disproven as well in the hearing but lamented that it would not take place before the April 9 election.
“The unilateral publication of the attorney-general’s decision a month before the election without giving the prime minister a chance to refute the false charges is blatant and unprecedented interference in the election,” the Likud said. “The sole purpose of this is to topple Netanyahu’s right-wing government and bring about a left-wing government led by Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid. This cannot be allowed to happen.”
Netanyahu is expected to issue a statement, we will add it when available. [See UPDATE below]
The prevailing wisdom is that this announcement will sink reelection chances for Netanyahu as head of Likud. Two other parties recently joined forces against Netanyahu, and polling indicated they might get more Knesset seats than Likud. But in Israel, the party with the most seats doesn’t get to name the Prime Minister, you have to build a coalition of parties to obtain a majority in the Knesset. In that regard, prior to this announcement, Netanyahu was still favored as having the best chance of putting together a majority coalition.
Just this morning Trump praised Netanyahu when asked about the potential charges against him.
תודה על תמיכתך בי, ידידי הנשיא טראמפ! 🇺🇸🇮🇱 pic.twitter.com/hXoabaLWZX
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) February 28, 2019
I have to wonder whether this will help Netanyahu, who will portray himself as a victim and may motivate some voters to vote for Likud as a rejection of election interference:
Shortly before Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced an indictment against Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister on Thursday afternoon released a campaign video laying out his likely political defense against the criminal charges, describing them as an “attempted political assassination.”
The clip, shared by the prime minister on Facebook along with a similar video on Likud’s page, slams the cases against him as a politically motivated attempt to bring him down and calls on voters to respond by choosing “specifically Netanyahu” at the ballot box in April’s elections….
“The cases against Netanyahu are a house of cards,” says a baritone voice actor with an ominous growl in the clip, as graphics of playing cards reading the various injustices against the prime minister stack up on screen
“How was this house built? By the pressure from the left and the media, ‘positive’ coverage, state’s witnesses, fake news, take away meals and cigars, 43 MKs who were not investigated for supporting the Israel Hayom law,” the voice over continues, listing the top hits of Netanyahu’s past criticisms of the three criminal cases he faces.
הליכוד בסרטון חדש: תיקי נתניהו הם מגדל קלפים pic.twitter.com/7nzXrYsRbz
— מעריב אונליין (@MaarivOnline) February 28, 2019
There already is a rallying around Netanyahu, as Israel National News reports:
A spokesman for the right-wing coalition in the Knesset responded to the indictment of Prime Minister Netanyahu, writing:
“Every person, even Benyamin Netanyahu, is entitled to be considered innocent until proven guilty, and therefore the list of right-wing parties will, after the elections, recommend Prime Minister Netanyahu as its candidate to form a strong and stable right-wing government.
However, in light of bitter past experience, it is now clearer than ever that the right-wing coalition, the only ones truly committed to the Land of Israel, must be large and strong so that we will not find ourselves the day after the elections with the Bibi-Ganz-Lapid government that could lead us to the establishment of a Palestinian terror state.”
We will update as more information becomes available.
Netanyahu responded to the announcement on Israeli TV:
The Jerusalem Post has translated excerpts, NETANYAHU, UNFAZED BY INDICTMENT, VOWS TO BE PRIME MINISTER FOR YEARS:
The prime minister opened by talking about his recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and comments US President 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.
“I’ve never seen the Left so happy…They’re sewing suits” to wear because they expect to become ministers, Netanyahu said.
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.
“I am not being given the chance to disprove [the accusations] until after the election – and I will disprove them all,” he added.
Netanyahu appeared to choke up with tears when 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 me 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.
The prime minister also referred to a letter from American jurist and Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, arguing that the charges dealing with relations between politicians and the media are a danger to democracy and that there is no precedent in the world of positive media coverage being considered a bribe.
“There are 2.5 friendly articles on the Walla website in a sea of articles,” Netanyahu said. “I am the most vilified person in the history of Israeli media.”
“If positive media coverage is a bribe, why didn’t they even consider investigating Yair Lapid?” he asked.
“There are rules for everyone, and other rules for Netanyahu and the Likud. This whole house of cards will fall,” he said.
Netanyahu said he has “the strength to stand up to this witch hunt” thanks to his family, his knowledge that the accusations are baseless, and support from Israelis.
“I plan to continue serving you as prime minister for many more years, but it’s up to you, not the bureaucrats or the commentators and reporters. Don’t let the witch hunt confuse you,” Netanyahu concluded.
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