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As Corruption Charges Mount, Will Israeli PM Survive?

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara during a gathering by Likud party members to show mass support for him after being accused of corruption cases, Tel Aviv, Israel, 9 August 2017. Photo Jack GUEZ / AFP

Allegations of corruption against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have become so numerous that the police and media have given them numbers to distinguish between them.

Netanyahu, who has long stayed ahead of his pursuers, has dismissed the allegations as attacks by the left and the media: “We know that the left and the media …. [are] on an unprecedented hunt against me and my family to bring down the government,” he said at a rally on 9 August 2017 organized by his Likud party. “They are putting unrelenting pressure on the legal system in order for them to present an indictment without any proof.”

The next day, however, court filings showed the Netanyahu was officially a suspect in bribery, fraud and breach of trust cases. The same day, it was revealed that his former chief of staff, Avi Harow, had taken a plea bargain to become a state witness in a corruption case against his former boss. Netanyahu again dismissed the revelations, calling them ‘background noise’ in a Facebook post.

Miri Regev, the minister of sports and culture and a Netanyahu ally, confidently told the press, “I’m not worried at all. The prime minister is not worried either.”

Formally, Netanyahu does not have to resign. According to the Basic Law of Government, the prime minister will be forced to step down only if he is convicted of a crime that carries moral turpitude.

However, there have been calls for his immediate resignation for the sake of the country. According to Ben-Dror Yemini, who writes for the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, ‘The people need a full-time prime minister.’  Another commentator, Yoav Fromer, noted that although removing a sitting prime minister from power would be unprecedented for a young democracy like Israel’s, it represents an important process that would help restore the public’s trust in their government.

Columnist Sima Kadmon, who also writes for Yedioth Ahronoth, admitted more realistically that indicting Netanyahu could be years away and it is unlikely that he will resign willingly. ‘Resign?! That’s hilarious. Unless he goes through some metamorphosis overnight, he’s not going anywhere,’ she wrote.

So what are the charges facing Netanyahu?

In Case 1000, Netanyahu reportedly accepted lavish gifts from wealthy supporters, including Australian billionaire James Packer and Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.

Case 2000 concerns Netanyahu’s alleged attempts to strike a deal with Arnon Mozes, the publisher of Yedioth Ahronoth, for better coverage in return for curbs on competition from the free daily Israel Hayom.

Case 3000 relates to a possible conflict of interests involving the purchase of German submarines, in which Netanyahu’s cousin and personal lawyer represented the German firm involved in the deal.

In Case 4000, Israel’s state watchdog says Netanyahu failed to disclose information regarding his personal friendship with Shaul Elovitch, a controlling shareholder of the national telephone company Bezeq, while the premier was dealing with no less than 12 issues connected to that telecoms’ monopoly.

To top it off, the Israeli authorities have long threatened to indict Netanyahu’s wife for fraud. She is accused of using government money to pay for what they call ‘personal expenses’ in her private home.

The charges have led many to wonder what the future holds for Netanyahu. Several commentators are predicting a long wait as the investigations are expected to drag on for several more months. Israel Hayom also talked down the state witness, listing a handful of cases in which state witnesses have failed to deliver incriminating evidence. Columnist Sima Kadmon refuted this, however, writing that ‘Harow is the game changer because he was so close to the prime minister’.

Whatever the outcome of the charges, Haaretz columnist Ravit Hecht has warned Israelis against eulogizing Netanyahu too soon, saying his political shrewdness and a loyal political base could see him remain in power for some time.