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Israel in crisis as police accuse Netanyahu of corruption

Position of leader who has dominated Israeli politics for decades threatened

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s long serving Prime Minister and the Israeli politician who has dominated Israeli politics for decades, is now faced with the greatest personal crisis of his political career as the Israeli police have accused him of corruption, and have recommended that he be prosecuted.

The precise details of the case are unclear.  However it is known that an investigation has been underway since January 2017 and that Ari Harow, Netanyahu’s former chief of staff, has signed a deal with prosecutors to testify against Netanyahu.  Here is how Reuters summarises the case

Israeli police on Tuesday recommended indicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for bribery, opening the way for what could be the biggest challenge yet to the right-wing leader’s political survival…..

The recommendations, which police made public on Tuesday night, were at the more serious end of the range of charges that had been expected to be levelled against Netanyahu in two criminal investigations that have gone on for more than a year.

One of the cases, known as Case 1000, alleged the “committing of crimes of bribery, fraud and breach of trust by the prime minister, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu.”

In a detailed statement, police named Arnon Milchan, a Hollywood producer and Israeli citizen, and Australian businessman James Packer, saying that for nearly a decade, from 2007 to 2016, they gave gifts that included champagne, cigars and jewellery to Netanyahu and his family.

Netanyahu’s lawyers said the presents were simply tokens of friendship.

The second, Case 2000, also alleged “bribery, fraud and breach of trust by the prime minister” and by the publisher of the biggest-selling Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, Arnon Mozes. The two men, police said, discussed ways of slowing the growth of a rival daily newspaper, Israel Hayom, “through legislation and other means”.

Netanyahu, who has denied wrongdoing, has been questioned several times by police since the start of 2017.

Netanyahu himself has categorically denied the police claims, saying the case against him is “full of holes, like Swiss cheese”.  He has moreover pledged to stay on as Prime Minister until the end of his term.

It would be a mistake to underestimate Netanyahu’s huge staying power.  He has been Prime of Israel four times, becoming Prime Minister for the first time in 1996, during which time he has become beyond question the best known Israeli leader internationally since the stroke which in 2005 incapacitated his main rival Ariel Sharon.

Throughout the time that Netanyahu has been Israel’s leader he has pursued unflinchingly an ultra hardline policy both towards the Palestinians and towards Iran.  In fact he is arguably the most implacable and dangerous enemy of Iran.

The scandal comes at a moment when  Netanyahu’s influence both within Israel and internationally has arguably never been stronger, with the election as US President of Donald Trump bringing to power in the US a staunch ally of Israel whose influential son-in-law Jared Kushner is said to be a personal friend of Netanyahu’s.  Moreover as US President Donald Trump has acted towards Iran with the same implacable hostility that Netanyahu has.

If the scandal does bring Netanyahu down it will remove from the Israeli political scene – if only for a time – the most intelligent and articulate advocate of Israel’s current hardline policies, and the one who has achieved the greatest degree of personal influence within the US.

Netanyahu of course insists that the scandal will do no such thing.  He says that because he knows that the case the police is making against him is wrong he feels under no pressure to resign since he knows that he will eventually be completely vindicated.

These brave words look impressive, and they are in character with Netanyahu’s combative personality.  However the reality is that if he is actually indicted on these charges then political support for him within Israel’s coalition government will melt away and he will come under pressure to go.

The decision whether to indict Netanyahu or not rests not with the police but with Avichai Mandelblit, Israel’s Attorney General.

He was selected for his post by Netanyahu and has a history of proven loyalty to Netanyahu.  Some however say that as Israel’s Attorney General upholding the law is his ‘only agenda’, and if the case against Netanyahu is strong he may if only for the sake of his own reputation be unwilling to go against the recommendation of the police.

Either way Netanyahu’s immediate future lies in his hands.

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