Netanyahu’s Corruption, Does it Herald his Downfall?
The charges against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are escalating with the most recent details of what is considered the most serious file of corruption, known as case 4000. Investigations are being conducted about Netanyahu and his wife Sarah receiving supportive coverage from the Hebrew news website ‘Walla’ for its owner Shaul Elovitch. Netanyahu is said to have acted to benefit Bizeq-Media in return, of which Elovitch is the controlling shareholder, thus earning millions of shekels. Ten days earlier, the recommendations of the Israeli police and the summary of their investigations referred to the presence of strong signs and indications that Netanyahu committed criminal offenses, such as receiving bribes in return for services, fraud and breach of trust in the two files known as cases 1000 and 2000. According to the police, “Netanyahu received, for 10 years, about one million shekels in bribes”.
Meanwhile, Israeli politicians are waiting for the Attorney General Avichai Mandelblitt to expedite the decision as to whether an indictment against Netanyahu is to be filed. Since Netanyahu chose his close friend Mandelblitt in this position in 2015, the latter faced accusations that Netanyahu chose him to be his representative in the judiciary. This was evident when, at the beginning of last year, Mandelblitt prevented the police from conducting parallel investigations against the prime minister and his wife in the same two cases where Netanyhu is expected to face charges.
Although the recommendations of the police to the public prosecution and to Netanyahu’s friend does not mean an indictment against the prime minister and does not force him to resign, a number of politicians preceded the final results and began talking about the beginning of the end of Netanyahu’s political life. They demanded his resignation especially with the beginning of the new investigation into file 4000 and the disclosure of the names of those remanded in the case who are close to the Israeli prime minister. They included the suspended director-general of the Ministry of Communications Shlomo Filber. New developments saw Filber signing a deal with the police to become a state witness in the corruption case with Supreme Court President Esther Hayut giving testimony to police in the scandal.
At the head of those demanding Netanyahu’s resignation was Labour Party chairman Avi Gabbay who said: “The Netanyahu era is over, the prime minister and his deputies have harmed the police and the institutions of the rule of law, including attempts to restrict interrogators and shake trust of the public in their work”. Yair Lapid, leader of ‘There is a Future’ party was, according to police recommendations, an important witness in the investigations. Commenting on the developments, he said: “Even if the law cannot force the head of the government to resign, in a well-run country a person facing such charges which he did not deny, cannot continue to serve as prime minister”. In his view, Yossi Beilin, one of Israel’s longest-serving senior politicians, saw that Netanyahu must submit his resignation. He said “no one accuses Netanyahu of treason or of neglecting state affairs, but of personal corruption … It is right for Netanyahu now to devote his time to defending himself, to give up his place to the one who will devote his mind and effort to the affairs of the state”.
Attorney General Mandelblitt recently announced that he would not hesitate to make difficult decisions: “No one is above the law and no one is treated differently. That was the situation when I ordered an investigation, and this will be if we find a legal ground to file charges. This will take time and will be conducted according to professional rules based on the public interest “, he said. However, the representatives of the parliamentary blocs that are not participating in the government coalition, called on Mandelblitt to accelerate the decision if an indictment will be directed against Netanyahu. A number of Israeli analysts expected the Attorney General to adopt the police recommendations, which would mean filing an indictment against Netanyahu and beginning the countdown to his political end.
A number of prominent Israeli journalists were sharply criticizing Netanyahu currently in his third term in office. Aluf Benn wrote in Haaretz accusing him of “exploiting his political status and influence for his personal interests, not Israel’s, trying to control the media that he believed were hostile to him. Consequently, he did not act as prime minister to serve the citizens as much as to strengthen his political power and authority.” Analyst Yossi Verter wrote in the same newspaper saying “today, Netanyahu is more like the former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert 10 years ago, when he said he had not received any bribe. The Israelis deserve something better than corrupt, greedy, money lovers and immoral leaders”. In the Times of Israel, Sima Kadmon said “talk has begun about the beginning of the end of Netanyahu. This is not about a few cigars or gifts among friends, but about a bribe amounting to one million shekel. But even the skeptics who thought Netanyahu could redeem himself realized that the talk was about the beginning of the end for him, and he realized that even among his supporters, many would not believe his claims that he tried to market.”
The end of Netanyahu’s political life does not necessarily mean the downfall of the right-wing coalition which seeks the cohesion of the government, in order to preserve the gains made during his period in office. However, it seems that Netanyahu is betting on something, as if he is waiting for his friend Mandelblitt to save him from sinking, as was evident in his remarks after the police recommendations. “Most of the police recommendations to indict me end with nothing. According to the Law, the police do not specify anything, the whole decision is in the hands of the judiciary,” he told reporters. Will Mandelbitt protect his friend from sinking, allowing favourism to win over justice in the so-called “oasis of democracy”- Israel?