News & Politics

The Netanyahu Recommendations: What Happened, What’s Next

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Sunday, Jan. 15, 2017. (Ronen Zvulun, pool via AP)

The Israeli national police are recommending indictment for bribery in the aftermath of two lengthy investigations known as Case 1000 and Case 2000.

The first case involves numerous expensive gifts that Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has allegedly received over his years in Israeli politics — many from influential businessmen with business before the government — worth hundreds of thousands of sheqels. Netanyahu has in the past dismissed these as “mere trifles” exchanged between friends. Clearly the police disagree; they have concluded that there is sufficient evidence to indict for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust.

In the second case, Netanyahu was caught on tape discussing passage of a law that would have restricted distribution of Sheldon Adelson’s popular free daily Yisrael Hayom. Netanyahu was speaking with Arnon (“Noni”) Mozes, publisher of Yedi’oth Acharonoth, Israel’s most widely read Hebrew-language daily; they discussed passage of the law in exchange for favorable coverage. Yedi’oth Acharonoth had often been critical of Netanyahu and his policies.

The police also recommended indicting Mozes and Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, an Israeli citizen, for giving Netanyahu inappropriate gifts as bribes. Also named in the recommendation was Australian billionaire James Packer. The law, proposed in 2014, failed to pass because the governing coalition collapsed, leading to new elections. Then the tape surfaced.

The long-expected police recommendations have been made in the wake of a campaign by the prime minister and his supporters to discredit the investigators. Most recently, Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich hinted that private investigators were hired to gather dirt on officers investigating Netanyahu. Netanyahu has continually denied this, most recently in a Facebook post. The recommendations also followed a ruling by the Israeli Supreme Court concerning a last-minute petition seeking to bar publication of the police findings.

It will now fall to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit and his prosecutors to examine the evidence presented by the police and to determine whether to proceed with indictment in one or both cases.

It has since emerged that Netanyahu’s greatest rival outside of the Likud party, Ya’ir Lapid of Yesh Atid, is a key witness in the recommendations. When this became known, it of course was immediately grist for Netanyahu’s angry rebuttal speech in which he predicted that the results of the probe “yistaymu belo klum” (“will end in nothing.”)

When the news of Lapid’s involvement broke, political pandemonium reigned. Lapid claimed that he had simply come forward to testify “as any ordinary citizen would do.” Lapid also claimed credit for having caused the coalition crisis in 2014 which brought down the government before the vote could be held on the Yisrael Hayom bill, so Netanyahu loyalists immediately smelled a rat. Coalition chairman David (“Dudi”) Amsalem reportedly told Lapid (according to the Jerusalem Post): “Lousy snitch, have you no shame? You were a boxer, you were an actor, you spent your time in coffee shops when we all ran in the hills and grew up in small towns. When I was a child I was taught this: Dudi, we do not snitch; nobody will ever want to sit with you again.”

It remains to be seen whether anyone will want to sit with Lapid’s party.

Recent polls have shown Yesh Atid running a very close second to Likud, and occasionally leading. The most recent poll that I’ve seen would have Likud winning 26 seats, Yesh Atid winning 22, the Leftist Zionist Union 15, Joint (Arab) List 12, HaBayith haYehudi 11, Kulanu 9, Yahaduth haTorah 7, Meretz 7, Yisra’el Beytenu 6, and Shas 5 seats.

Though the poll results indicate that 40% of the electorate want Netanyahu to remain in office, 51% believe the police version of events.

In his speech, Netanyahu defiantly refused to step down, and tried to minimize the charges by declaring the affair to be “about cigars.” For the moment, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has already declared that indictment alone does not require Netanyahu’s resignation. However, the eventuality would be such a political liability that President Reuven Rivlin and some other senior figures in the Likud party have made it clear that he should step down if Mandelblit indicts.

Stay tuned.