Israel’s attorney general made a bombshell announcement on Thursday, leveling criminal charges against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in three separate cases, as the country still remains at an election impasse with no government.
This is the first time in Israel’s history that a sitting prime minister has faced indictment on criminal counts. Netanyahu described the charges as a politically motivated “attempted coup.”
Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing and vowed to “continue to lead Israel… in accordance with the law.” He may legally continue as prime minister and would only have to step down if convicted.
Just a day after Netanyahu’s rival Benny Gantz announced his failure to create a coalition government, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced his decision to indict the prime minister on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
One of the charges against Netanyahu alleges that between 2012 and 2017 the prime minister had an arrangement with an Israeli media tycoon to get favorable news coverage for him and his family. Netanyahu is accused of passing regulations that gave his friend’s company benefits worth over $250-$500 million in exchange for positive press.
Mandelblit’s announcement came after a three-year investigation on three cases against Netanyahu.
“A day in which the attorney general decides to serve an indictment against a seated prime minister for serious crimes of corrupt governance is a heavy and sad day, for the Israeli public and for me personally,” Mandelblit said at a news conference.
Many have suggested that this is part of the Israeli “deep-state”. However Netanyahu himself appointed Mandelblit and there are no equivalents of “Obama holdovers” in Israel, as Netanyahu has been in power for over ten years.
Having studied the evidence, it is my opinion that the AG had no choice but to indict. In fact, I don’t know of one Israeli who didn’t expect him to be indicted. It pains me to say this because I think that Netanyahu is a once in a lifetime figure, who stood against Iran and protected Israel. He was not afraid to confront Putin or Obama. He leads a country of under 10 million but is more recognizable than the leaders of China, Egypt, Iran, Brazil or India. It is hard for me to even imagine Israel led by someone else. Will the new leader have the same boldness and backbone in the face existential threats?
Some have called Bibi Churchillian, but Churchill was voted out of office not long after World War II. As well, let’s not forget that Bibi is flesh and blood, part of fallible humanity. There is a reason that we have term limits in the U.S. system. If one is left in power too long, corruption seems to always seep in.
The Knesset, in the meantime, was tasked with choosing a lawmaker to assemble a government after both Netanyahu and his centrist rival Benny Gantz failed to do so. If that doesn’t happen by Dec. 11, the Knesset will be dissolved, and elections will be called — bringing Israel to a total of three elections in less than a year—a huge weight on our economy. Polls say that if Bibi steps aside, Gantz’s Blue and White would cruise to victory. It just shows how strong Netanyahu’s personal base is, compared to his Likud party.
Meanwhile Netanyahu is now also facing a challenge for leadership in his own party, Likud, of which he has been the leaders for more than a decade. But sensing the tide of public opinion turning against Bibi, Likud member Gideon Saar has called for party primaries in hopes of taking over leadership of the party.
Many Israelis still fervently support Netanyahu and some 8,000 rallied in Tel Aviv this week in his support.