By Ananya Upadhyay
In a setback for the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, the police, after 14 months of investigation, suggested on Tuesday that there was enough evidence for him to be indicted for a couple of bribery and ‘breach of trust’ charges. However, the final decision on whether to press charges will be made by Avichai Mandelblit, the attorney-general, who is expected to deliberate upon the matter for several months.
In his defence, Netanyahu maintained a cool and confident stance while ridiculing the charges. He called the list of recommendations published by the police “a biased, extreme document, full of holes as a Swiss cheese, which doesn’t hold water.” He also accused the Israeli media and left-wing groups of peddling ‘fake news’.
Both the corruption scandals in which Netanyahu is allegedly involved, concern allegations of illicit dealings with rich and powerful men. In the first one, called the ‘Case 1000’, he is accused of receiving expensive gifts from billionaires and then taking action on their behalf. In the second scandal, referred to as the ‘Case 2000’, he is accused of striking an illicit deal with a newspaper publisher.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu is alleged to have received tens of thousands of dollars worth of gifts from Arnon Milchan, an Israeli Hollywood producer, and James Packer, an Australian casino mogul. The gifts include champagne, cigars, flights and hotel rooms. In return, Netanyahu supposedly helped Milchan obtain a US visa and Packer secure a residency permit in Israel.
While the police portrayed his connection to the Israel-born Milchan as “a bribery relationship”, Netanyahu insisted that they were long-time friends. He said that investigators had ignored two instances, involving an automotive company and a television channel, in which his actions had been adverse to Milchan’s business interests.
In a similar fashion, Case 2000 also alleges “bribery, fraud and breach of trust by the prime minister” and by the publisher of the biggest-selling Israeli newspaper, Arnon Mozes. The two men, police said, discussed ways of slowing the growth of a rival daily newspaper, Israel Hayom, “through legislation and other means.” Mozes’ newspaper, Yedioth, which had historically criticised Netanyahu, would cover him more favourably in return.
Besides these, he is also mixed up in two other scandals which involve his wife and son as well. ‘Case 3000’ involves alleged corruption in the sale of German submarines to Israel. Police have accused businessman Michael Ganor of bribing government officials to become the negotiating agent for ThyssenKrupp, the German company that built the subs. In addition, Netanyahu’s personal lawyer, David Shimron, was simultaneously acting as Ganor’s representative during the negotiations over the sale.
Molad, a left-wing Israeli think tank, has sued Yair Netanyahu for libel. Yair, the eldest son of Benjamin Netanyahu, called the group a “radical, anti-zionist organisation funded by the fund for Israel’s destruction” (a reference to the New Israel Fund, a left-wing NGO and a bête noire of the Israeli-right). Earlier that day, Molad had posted a listicle criticising Yair Netanyahu’s political views and use of public funds.
However, the biggest surprise contained in the recommendations released by the police on Tuesday night was that Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party and a key witness against Netanyahu was also a rival for his job.
As a political matter, however, Netanyahu’s right-leaning governing coalition holds just 66 of 120 seats in the Parliament, so any cracks in solidarity could quickly prove fatal.
Within 24 hours, however, three crucial partners had indicated that they would support Netanyahu. The Finance Minister, Moshe Kahlon, whose centre-right Kulanu party holds 10 seats, signalled that he would not make any decisions before the attorney general’s decision on the indictment.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose Yisrael Beiteinu party has five seats, was forced to resign as Foreign Minister after being indicted on corruption charges in 2012, but won an acquittal and resumed his post a year later. “This is why, until a prime minister is convicted at court, he can continue,” Lieberman said.
Benjamin Netanyahu had come to power in 2009, after his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, faced indictment on charges of taking tens of thousands of dollars in cash payoffs. Olmert, who was deeply unpopular after leading Israel into the humiliating Lebanon War in 2006, was politically doomed. Compared to Olmert, Netanyahu, however, had a far more commanding hold on power.
Just like the Republicans see Donald Trump as their best shot of retaining power, even if they do not like everything about him, Netanyahu’s right-wing and ultra-orthodox allies prefer him to be in power despite his faults, rather than being shut out by a left-of-centre government.
“When Ehud Olmert was forced to leave his post after an indictment was issued, it happened with full public confidence in the law enforcement agencies,” journalist Ben-Dror Yemini wrote in an op-ed article in Yedioth Ahronoth. “If Netanyahu is forced to leave his post in the coming number of months, that will happen amid an awful crisis of confidence among his supporters, who aren’t exactly a negligible minority.”
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