Netanyahu’s political life in peril amid three cases of corruption

Bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges may wrest power from Likud in April polls

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu:  a poll shows an indictment would result in Likud falling to 25 seats. The Blue and White alliance would rise to 44 seats.  Photograph: AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu: a poll shows an indictment would result in Likud falling to 25 seats. The Blue and White alliance would rise to 44 seats. Photograph: AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner

 

Binyamin Netanyahu has dominated Israeli politics for the last two decades and only a few months ago looked a certain bet to win a fifth term as prime minister when elections take place on April 9th.

Now he is fighting for his political life.

On Thursday, Israel’s attorney general Avichai Mandelblit announced that Netanyahu will be charged in three separate graft cases.

He recommended bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges in an investigation given the name Case 4000, in which Netanyahu is suspected of receiving favourable coverage on the Walla! News website in return for regulatory benefits to telecommunications giant Bezeq, both owned by businessman Shaul Elovitch.

Case 4,000 is the most serious of the three affairs and the only one in which Netanyahu will be charged with bribery.

In Case 1,000 Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, were investigated for allegedly accepting illicit gifts – expensive cigars and pink champagne – from billionaire businessmen Arnon Milchan and James Packer. Mendelblit announced indictments on charges of fraud and breach of trust in this case.

In Case 2,000 Netanyahu is suspected of negotiating a deal with Arnon Mozes, publisher of the popular Yediot Aharonot newspaper, under which Netanyahu would work to curtail the activity of rival paper Yisrael Hayom in exchange for Yediot Aharonot softening its critical coverage. Mendelblit charged Netanyahu with fraud and breach of trust in this case.

Political fallout

The political fallout from the attorney general’s decision will become clearer in the coming days but recent polls have shown a very close race between the two main blocs: the right-wing/religious bloc headed by Netanyahu and the centrist-left bloc headed by former top general Benny Gantz, head of the new Blue and White party.

Only a small shift of a few seats from the right-wing bloc to the centrist alliance could mean an end to Netanyahu’s dream of surpassing David Ben-Gurion as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.

A Times of Israel poll published early on Thursday showed that an indictment would result in Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party losing four seats in the 120-seat Knesset, falling from 29 to 25 seats. The Blue and White alliance, on the other hand, would rise dramatically, from 36 to 44 seats.

Gantz called on Netanyahu to resign. “I won’t sit in a government with Binyamin Netanyahu. I appeal to you: show national responsibility, and resign from your position. If and when you can prove your innocence, you can return to public service with your head held high.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich of the Labor Party, who said Netanyahu was no longer fit to be prime minister.

Speaking in a televised address on Thursday night, Netanyahu appealed to the Likud faithful to stick with him despite the announcement. “The left mocks the intelligence of Likud voters, but the voters know better. Still, it’s enough that only a few will be influenced [by the attorney general’s announcement] to turn the election,” he warned.

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