image Photo: Flash 90

Political turmoil: pending Netanyahu indictment

Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced his decision to indict Incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. In a televised address to the nation, Mandelblit – who was appointed to the judicial position by Netanyahu after serving as his cabinet secretary – voiced his deep personal sadness over his unprecedented decision, to indict the longest serving Israeli Prime Minister on three charges of severe offences. The Israeli official said “This is a difficult and sad day. Today I announced to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu‘s lawyers about my decision to indict him in three charges. A day in which the attorney general decides about indicting a serving prime minister in severe offences of administrative corruption is a difficult and sad day for the Israeli public and for me personally.”

The Attorney General further insisted, in light of widespread criticism of the process that led to his decision, that only after his absolute conviction that was solely based on evidence presented to him, he opted to follow through with the indictment. He said “Only after being convinced that the entire evidentiary infrastructure provides a reasonable chance of conviction in criminal acts, did I decide to indict the prime minister in three charges. The offences in which the prime minister is charged are severe. The offence of bribery in which the prime minister is indicted in case 4000 expresses a severe blow to clean conduct in public service.”

Mandelblit continued by listing an overview of the evidence that supposedly forced his hand. He explained that if the court ultimately determines that Netanyahu had indeed committed the offences attributed to him, then these are severe acts of bribery, fraud and breach of the Israeli peoples’ trust. According to Mandelblit “If it is determined that the prime minister indeed committed the offences attributed to him in the charge sheet, then these are severe acts. Because receiving gifts as a public candidate, amounting to hundreds of thousands of Shekels in a framework of a sort of a systematic supply chain which exists ceaselessly for years is a severe thing. Because when a public candidate deals with the personal and economic affairs of the person who gives the gifts it is a serious thing. Because conducting an ongoing dialogue about a bribery offer by a public candidate, with the purpose of getting a favor as a result of this dialogue is a severe thing. As I already clarified regarding the prime minister, there are alleged evidence to committing these severe acts which provide a reasonable chance for conviction.”

Immediately after the Attorney General’s decision, Israelis voiced mixed feelings, separately insisting that the incitement constitutes a dark day for the state and people of Israel. Jerusalem resident Yonatan Zaken said “It’s wrong that they charge him. It’s not a bribe. To take Champagne and cigars it’s not bribery, it’s a kind of a favor, so what? It’s not something to be judged about or remove someone from a prime minister’s position because of that.” Jerusalem resident Alex Katz was quoted saying “I think that it’s a shame. I think that Netanyahu is the strongest figure that Israel has ever had on the world’s stage. I think that this was politically motivated and it’s unfortunate, it’s a sad day for the country.” Opposingly, Tel Aviv resident Lee Levy voiced the opinion that “It’s been a really long time and that there were all sorts of accusations and it’s about time that something will be actually done in a legal process If he is not guilty then he will be found not guilty. But there has been so many speculations in the past that it makes you think that there has to be something there.”

About an hour after Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit’s announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded in a televised address of his own, during which he declared that he would not resign despite being charged with allegations that he denounced as an “attempted coup” based on sheer deceit. Netanyahu said “Tonight, we are witnessing an attempted coup against a serving prime minister, based on fabrications and a tainted, biased investigative process…In this tainted process they (the investigators) weren’t after the truth, they were after me. The investigators didn’t pressure the witnesses to tell the truth, they crushed them with threatening extortion to say a lie.”

Netanyahu further emphasized that he “Will not let the lie triumph. I will continue to lead the country, according to the letter of the law, with responsibility, devotion and concern for the security and future of us all.”

While Netanyahu was speaking, two demonstrations were held separately in front of the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem, in both support and opposition of the Israeli leader. Anti-Netanyahu Demonstrator Asher Ben David said “(Netanyahu should say) tonight I’m resigning my office. It is unheard of, it’s unthinkable that the prime minister will continue in office while being indicted for such grieve breaches of law. He will stand trial, he will probably also go to jail, he cannot manage a country as difficult to manage as the state of Israel.” Whereas Pro-Netanyahu Demonstrator Moti Kastel said, “I came to tell Netanyahu you will never march alone and I came to tell all of the fabricators that this ridicules and abominable coup attempt won’t succeed, simply won’t succeed.”

It is important to highlight the fact that within Israel’s democratic system, until proven guilty in court Benjamin Netanyahu is innocent. Furthermore, the legal proceedings can take some time, as a hearing must take place in parliament over his post’s immunity. While the Prime Minister, like every other lawmaker, does not receive automatic protection from prosecution, he is entitled to request immunity within 30 days of receiving the announcement of last night’s decision to prosecute him.

To avoid such a scenario all together, Netanyahu’s left-wing rival, Labor party chairman Amir Peretz announced his intention to petition the High Court of Justice requesting a ruling against Benjamin Netanyahu’s ability to continue his service as Prime Minister. Peretz said “Netanyahu’s indictments are the real reason that a new government has not been formed in Israel. We will not be able to accept a situation in which an indicted prime minister continues serving as if nothing happened. There is no doubt that the political deadlock emanates first and foremost from the personal situation of the prime minister. Therefore, we intend to petition the high court so that it will rule that a prime minister in such a condition who did not receive the trust of the current parliament, won’t be able to continue in his role.”