Netanyahu Continues to Deny Accusations Amidst Arrests and Mounting Evidence Against Him
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a suspect in two criminal investigations, locally referred to as “Case 1000” and “Case 2000.” As of February 23rd, the Israeli police said that there was “sufficient evidence” to indict Prime Minister Netanyahu on criminal charges in both of the cases. And as of Tuesday, one of his closest advisers was accused of attempting to bribe a judge into dropping a criminal investigation involving Netanyahu’s wife.
The scandal continues to grow: Israeli police have arrested seven friends and advisors of Netanyahu’s, and a top government official was in talks with prosecutors to become a government witness. These arrests are the most recent developments in the Bezeq investigation, known as Case 4000, in which Netanyahu is not named, but is clearly implicated.
In Case 4000, investigators are looking into whether Netanyahu enacted policies that would financially benefit Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of the telecommunications company Bezeq, in exchange for positive coverage on Elovitch’s news site, Walla.
In spite of the countless accusations and recent recommendations from the police to prosecute him, Netanyahu continues to deny any and all of the allegations, most recently in a video he released on Tuesday. He called the allegations “hallucinatory,” “baseless” and part of a “campaign of persecution against me and my family that has been going on for years.”
As the scandals become more vindictive, Netanyahu is facing increasing pressure from party members, opposition groups, and leaders from countries abroad. Although key coalition partners are standing by Netanyahu, one has said that Netanyahu is “not living up to the standard of his office.” The more entangled Netanyahu becomes in the scandals, the harder it will be for members of his own party, Likud, to stand by him.
Part of Netanyahu’s lack of concern likely stems from the fact that in his first term in the late 1990s, police similarly recommended indicting him in two separate cases, but the Attorney General decided not to file an indictment. Netanyahu is currently backed by all of the parties in his coalition because, as Oren Liebermann of CNN reports, Netanyahu is an asset to the right-wing government, but the moment he becomes a liability, his support system will crumble.
The Israeli left and center are calling on Netanyahu to resign or declare himself “incapacitated.” Yair Lapid, a member of the centrist Yesh Atid party, said that “Israel deserves a full-time prime minister who is not engaged in anything else.”
Israeli citizens are also growing more wary of Netanyahu’s predicament. Three polls published last week indicate that many Israelis believe the police version of events rather than Netanyahu’s. The television channel Reshet aired a poll which indicated that 49% of Hebrew-speaking Israelis believe Netanyahu acted improperly; 25% accept Netanyahu’s claims of innocence, and 26% don’t know what to believe.
Netanyahu’s legal troubles come at a time of heightened foreign affairs troubles as well. At a conference in Munich last weekend, Israel issued a warning to Iran in light of the downing of an Iranian aircraft that was flying in Israeli airspace. Netanyahu said, “We will act if necessary, not just against Iran’s proxies but against Iran itself.” The Iranian foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, responded in part by saying that Netanyahu’s aggression was merely a way to distract attention from his political troubles.
Although it could take months for Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to indict Netanyahu, if he decides to do so, and years for an actual trial to take place, Meir Sheetrit, a former minister from Likud, said that Netanyahu is headed in the direction of political defeat. He said that “Netanyahu and the Likud are disconnected from the people, floating along in a world in which their corruption doesn't matter. But it will, and this won't take long to come.”