Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu charged with bribery and corruption

Saturday, 23 Nov, 2019

Discreet but influential - and hand-picked to his role by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - Avichai Mandelblit has become the first attorney general in Israeli history to indict a serving premier.

Netanyahu has called the allegations part of a witch hunt, lashing out against the media, police, prosecutors and the justice system.

"Tonight", he said, "we are witnesses to an coup attempt against a prime minister through an investigation process which is contaminated and tendentious". "The time has come to investigate the investigators".

Netanyahu is desperate to remain in office to fight the charges.

Ministers must resign if they're charged with a crime, Arutz7 reports. Netanyahu has been charged with bribery, as well as fraud and breach of trust, in this case.

Netanyahu's domestic travails come in spite of unprecedented support from the USA, spearheaded by President Donald Trump.

Except for a key difference, writes Gil Hoffman in the right-wing Jerusalem Post: "In Israel a prime minister can be ousted much easier than the president of the United States... because our elections are not limited to every four years".

Mr Mandelblit said his "heavy-hearted decision" was based exclusively on professional considerations, and he rejected suggestions the indictment was politically motivated. Both sides had staged demonstrations outside or near his home. "This is not a matter of politics", he said. "We need a law enforcement arm which the public trusts".

Under Israeli law, and acting PM is not forced to resign, even if indicted for bribery that could send him to five years behind bars.

Israel has been without a functioning government for almost a year, with Netanyahu, nicknamed "King Bibi", staying on as interim premier after two inconclusive elections in April and September.

Netanyahu was also backed by others on the right, who have had an up and down relationship with the prime minister over the years.

If there is no political breakthrough in the next three weeks, Israel will face yet another election, which few want.

The two parties were tied after the April parliamentary elections, with each party holding 35 seats. But after Thursday's indictment, that possibility appeared even more remote.

Attorney General Mandelblit said in February that he meant to indict Mr Netanyahu in connection with three cases - known as Case 1,000, Case 2,000 and Case 4,000 - pending final hearings that eventually took place last month.

The indictment comes as Netanyahu continues to serve as Israel's caretaker prime minister after he failed to forge a governing coalition last month.

Netanyahu is accused of involvement in a media bribery scheme in which the owner of the Walla!

Those gifts allegedly included champagne and cigars.

And it accuses Mr Netanyahu of assisting Israeli Mr Milchan, a Hollywood mogul, in extending his U.S. visa.

The indictment states that "Defendant Netanyahu carried out various actions in favor of Defendant Elovitch in exchange for the benefits he received from the Elovitch family in the form of coverage, while acting in a partial manner and putting himself in a conflict of interests between his public duties and his private affairs, in manner that was out of the ordinary". But after the indictment, they were largely mum.

Rebel members of Netanyahu's conservative Likud party could demand a primary election to choose a new leader. He did not address the looming criminal charges.

Kogen then speaks with Shai, who, prior to the indictment announcement against Netanyahu, had some words of advice for opposition Blue and White party head Benny Gantz: namely, to make painful concessions and to form a government together with Netanyahu.

That could now change. A person who has been indicted on these charges is not worthy of leading Israel. The poll had a margin of error of 4 percentage points.