Israel’s attorney general issues charges against Netanyahu for bribery, breach of trust

March 1, 2019 by JNS
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With less than six weeks before Israel’s general elections on April 9, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced on Thursday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be indicted in all three ongoing corruption cases against him, including bribery in the Bezeq corruption investigation.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a joint press conference with Yoav Galant, Newly appointed Israeli Minister of Immigrant Absorption at the Kneeset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on January 9, 2019. Photo by Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90.

In two other cases, Mandelblit will charge Netanyahu with a count each of breach of trust.

“Israel is a state of laws, and we respect the legal system,” former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Dore Gold told JNS shortly before the announcement. “At the same time, most Israelis recognize Prime Minister Netanyahu’s extraordinary contribution to the security and safety to the State of Israel.”

“So we hope those making these charges will work expeditiously, and we hope that the prime minister will be proven to be innocent, and we get back to the world of diplomacy and the security of the state,” he added.

The announcement marks the first time in Israeli history that a sitting prime minister has been informed that he will face criminal charges. This is expected to cast a cloud over Netanyahu’s chances of being re-elected to a position he has held for a decade.

Known as Case 4000, Netanyahu is accused of trading favorable government treatment of the Bezeq communications company in exchange for positive coverage on the Walla news site, both owned by Shaul Elovitch, who will, along with the prime minister, reportedly be charged with bribery.

The two other cases include an attempted deal between Yediot Achronot newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes and Netanyahu to decrease circulation of rival Israel Hayom in exchange for more positive coverage, known as Case 2000. Mozes will be charged with bribery.

The other, Case 1000, accuses Netanyahu of receiving gifts from Hollywood film producer Arnon Milchan and Australian businessman James Packer that included champagne, jewelry and cigars, altogether worth tens of thousands of dollars. As Netanyahu accepted Milchan’s gifts, he apparently acted on the Israeli-born producer’s behalf in the telecommunications realm; for his part, Netanyahu has said he was just accepting gifts from a friend.

As such, Netanyahu can request a hearing to contest the indictment, a process that could take up to a year. Israeli law only requires that a prime minister step down if he is convicted.

Netanyahu has denied all allegations against him.

“Mandelblit’s announced intent to indict Netanyahu on charges of bribery and breach of trust inserts law-enforcement officials into the political arena in an unprecedented way and on a very shaky legal foundation,” said Avi Bell, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan Jerusalem-based Kohelet Policy Forum, a professor of law at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan and at the University of San Diego, as well as a visiting fellow at Harvard Law School’s Project on the Foundations of Private Law.

“If the legal theories that the Attorney General is introducing against Netanyahu become general law, a considerable part of the democratic life of Israel will have to pass through police interrogation rooms,” he continued. “If they remain restricted to Netanyahu, the partisanship will permanently damage public trust in the Israeli legal system.”

Above report from Jackson Richman/JNS

Speaking out for the first time since the attorney general’s announcement of indictments, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the charges against him as “political persecution,” while touting his success in bolstering Israel’s security, foreign relations and the economy as leader.

“The policy I lead with my friends in the Likud led Israel to the best decade in its history in security, foreign relations, the economy, in every field,” Netanyahu said in a statement to the media from the prime minister’s residence. “We turned Israel into a rising world force, but we did it without concessions and bowing our heads. We did it while constantly nurturing our strength, even militarily.”

“The left knows that with such feats, they can’t beat us in the ballot,” continued Netanyahu. “That’s why for three years they have been carrying out political persecution against us in order to topple the right-wing government.”

Netanyahu also said that he has the support of world leaders such as U.S. President Donald Trump.

“I heard earlier the words of support that I received from U.S. President Donald Trump. I thank my friend President Trump for his statements and for his support.”

Earlier on Thursday, Trump said that he believes Netanyahu is “tough, smart and strong” and been a great leader for Israel.

Netanyahu also mentioned his recent trip to Moscow to meet with President Vladimir Putin. Netanyahu said he is working together with Putin to collaborate against Iran.

“This unique relationship with world leaders is no small matter, and for many years it has helped me to ensure our security, helped to preserve our country,” Netanyahu said.

Meanwhile, the Likud Party slammed the indictment charges against Netanyahu, calling them “political persecution.”

“Nobody is surprised by the attorney general’s announcement that came after three years of relentless pressure on him by the media, the left and judiciary bureaucrats to indict the prime minister at any cost — even when there isn’t anything, just to have it happen before the elections,” Likud says in a statement released immediately after Mandelblit’s announcement.

Several right-wing Israeli political parties said that they still would back Netanyahu as prime minister in the next government.

“Every person, including Benjamin Netanyahu, is innocent until proven guilty, and therefore the Union of Right-Wing Parties will recommend after the elections that Prime Minister Netanyahu be the candidate to form a strong and stable right-wing government,” the Union of Right-Wing Parties—comprised of Jewish Home, National Union and Otzma Yehudit—said in a statement.

Similarly, Shas said it would only support Netanyahu as the next prime minister, saying “Netanyahu is the most fitting person to lead the country at this time, and we will back him as prime minister as long as the law allows him.”

The New Right Party, headed by right-wing rival Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked said it “respected” the decision by the attorney general, but would “still recommend Netanyahu as head of the new government.”

Just hours before Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit was expected to announce his intent to indict Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on an array of charges, Israel’s High Court blocked a petition from the Likud Party seeking to delay the indictment.

Responding to the decision, Likud said that “It is unfortunate that the High Court didn’t prevent the left from blatantly intervening in the elections.”

The Likud petition said that announcement timed so close to national elections would interfere with the public’s right to choose their top leader.

Mandelblit has said that handing down the indictment just weeks before the election was simply a matter of coincidental timing, and accused Netanyahu of making the elections earlier only after he announced that he would soon publicize his decision.

Netanyahu has accused Mandelblit of succumbing to “pressure from the left and the media” in making his announcement prior to elections.

He further lambasted Mandelblit for going through with a public display of announcing an intent to indict when previous cases featuring other public officials were closed without indictments taking place, despite a previous announcement by the attorney general that he intended to do so.

Mandelblit has argued that his announcement is legal, despite a tendency not to indict immediately prior to elections, so as not to appear to show bias, stating that pushing off the indictment would appear to show bias towards Netanyahu.

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