(December 11, 2018 / JNS) When Israeli police issued a third recommendation to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for suspected bribery, opposition leaders increased their calls for Israel’s second longest-serving leader to resign. Yet all indications point to Netanyahu remaining glued to his post, though that could change if the Attorney General decides to formally issue an indictment in the coming months.
Political analyst Mitchell Barak, who worked for Netanyahu in the Prime Minister’s Office, said that while “there is a perceived abuse of power, Netanyahu supporters are convinced that ‘fake news’ and the police are against him.”
“Things will begin to crumble only if there is a decision to indict, and political pressure builds until he can no longer govern,” Barak told JNS. “That will only happen if Netanyahu’s coalition partners and even Knesset members serving in [his own] Likud are ready to bolt the government, convinced by their own self-interests no longer to be tied to an indicted prime minister.”
The most recent police recommendation followed a nine-month investigation alleging that “the prime minister and his associates intervened in a blatant and ongoing manner … in the content published by the Walla news website.” Police recommended charges of bribery, fraud and breach of public trust.
Known as Case 4000, police allege that the prime minister, who also served as communications minister, advanced regulations that were financially beneficial to Shaul Elovich, controlling shareholder of Israel’s largest telecommunications company, Bezeq, in exchange for favorable coverage of Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, from Elovitch’s Walla news site.
In February of this year, police recommended bribery charges against Netanyahu in Cases 1000 and 2000. In Case 1000, the so-called “gifts scandal,” Netanyahu is suspected of “systematically” receiving benefits worth approximately NIS 1 million ($282,000) from billionaire benefactors, including Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Australian resort owner James Packer.
Case 2000 involves a suspected “quid pro quo” arrangement between Netanyahu and Arnon Mozes, publisher of the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot newspaper, whereby the prime minister promised to weaken a rival daily—the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom newspaper—in return for more favorable coverage in Yediot. It remains unclear whether Netanyahu acted to harm Israel Hayom or whether Yediot provided any more favorable coverage.
Each of the police recommendations are currently being reviewed by the state prosecutor before being turned over to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit for a formal decision on whether to indict the prime minister on any or all of the cases.
‘The attorney general will decide’
Following the latest police recommendation, opposition leader Tzipi Livni, Zionist Union chair Avi Gabbay, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and Meretz chair Tamar Zandberg all called for Netanyahu to resign. They point out that then-opposition leader Netanyahu told then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who was under police investigation in 2008, that “a prime minister up to his neck in investigations has no public or moral mandate to make fateful decisions for Israel.”
Michael Partem from the Movement for Quality Government told JNS, “Olmert set a positive precedent by resigning even before he was indicted. But a police recommendation is not legally binding. There appear to be many problems with the prime minister’s ethical behavior, but the law does not bind him. There has been a thorough investigation, and the attorney general will decide.”
Zionist Union Knesset Member Nachman Shai told JNS that “it’s not likely Netanyahu will resign unless he is indicted. But I don’t see him functioning as prime minister under indictment.”
Netanyahu describes the charges as part of a conspiracy and denies all wrongdoing, giving no indication that he will voluntarily leave office, even if the recommendations are turned into indictments. As he has said, “The relevant authorities, after checking the matter, will reach the same conclusion—that there isn’t anything because nothing happened.”
Hebrew University political-scientist Professor Avraham Diskin told JNS, “Legally, Netanyahu would be required to resign only after a conviction with moral turpitude. The Supreme Court has determined that mayors and even ministers must resign when indicted, but not the prime minister.”
A veteran observer of Netanyahu’s career, Diskin said that “Bibi is convinced these are dubious accusations, and there is a good chance he will not be formally charged or convicted.”