Lawfare is alive and well in Israel. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was informed through his attorney that he will be indicted on charges of bribery and breach of trust.
Prosecutors must conduct a pre-indictment hearing so charges are not 100% certain. But Netanyahu’s opponents, who have been after him since he took office, may have finally succeeded in bringing him down.
Do you think the fact that it’s six weeks before the election had anything to do with the timing of the announcement?
With elections just six weeks away, Netanyahu called the prosecution’s announcement “outrageous” and an “unprecedented witch hunt” carried out by his liberal opponents.
The prime minister vowed to refute all allegations which he said are “blood libel.”
Police have previously recommended indicting Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three different cases.
Netanyahu claimed his predecessors have received small gifts similar to what he has been accused of taking, but were not charged.
“If it not Bibi — there’s no investigation,” Netanyahu said, referring to himself by his nickname.
This isn’t Netanyahu’s first go-around with prosecutors. Police recommended indicting him on two other occasions during his four terms as prime minister.
Do they have a case this time?
The most serious allegations against Netanyahu involve his relationship with Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Israel’s telecom giant Bezeq.
Police recommended an indictment in the case based on evidence collected that confidants of Netanyahu promoted regulatory changes worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Bezeq. In exchange, they believe Netanyahu used his connections with Elovitch to receive positive press coverage on Bezeq’s popular subsidiary news site, Walla. Police have said their investigation concluded that Netanyahu and Elovitch engaged in a “bribe-based relationship.”
Police also recommended charges be brought against Elovitch, members of his family and members of his Bezeq management team.
This all seems very iffy, considering they apparently have no evidence that the the prime minister himself promoted regulatory changes. They only have evidence against his “confidants.” And if it was a crime to ask the media for more favorable coverage, we’d have an awful lot of politicians in jail.
Still, the tit for tat arrangement would be a crime — if authorities could prove it. But if timing is everything, those pushing this indictment probably don’t care if the case ever goes to trial. They’ve accomplished their goal of smearing the prime minister on the eve of elections.
There will definitely be calls for the prime minister to step down, considering the time frame for his legal situation to resolve itself:
Legal experts in Israel say it could take up to a year for a hearing process into the charges to end and an additional two years for a court case to be heard.
While Israeli prime ministers are not required by law to resign if charged, the prospect of a prime minister standing trial while simultaneously running the country would be unchartered territory.
A Times of Israel poll contains bad news for Netanyahu and Likud. The Blue and White party, a new party formed by former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, would handily defeat Likud if the election were held now. But Gantz has fallen victim to the #MeToo movement. Forty-year-old accusations of sexual harassment when Gantz was a senior in high school have surfaced and no one knows what effect that might have on the outcome.