In an unprecedented move, the Attorney General in Israel, Avichai Mandelblit, announced he will indict Prime Minister Netanyahu for fraud and breach of trust, just five weeks before a general election. Those on the political left have not been this happy since Labor was last in power under an Ehud Barak government in 1999, but that only lasted until early 2001 and since then, they have been in the political wilderness.
But worldwide attention suddenly turned towards Israel and the Prime Minister, suggesting Netanyahu was fraudulently carving out money for himself in all sorts of political deals and conning the public. When they talk about bribery, they are not speaking about cash in envelopes or a transfer of money into a bank account abroad, they are referring (at least in case 2000) to publisher and controlling owner of the most influential daily Israeli newspaper Arnon Mozes and the Yediot Ahronot.
Mozes allegedly promised Netanyahu, his paper would give him more favourable coverage if he worked to shut down the pro-Netanyahu and popular free Yisrael Hayom newspaper, which was affecting Yediot sales. But in the end, no deal was struck. Is that really a breach of trust?
Still the television debates, radio phone in’s and commentators, most of whom didn’t really understand the charges against the Prime Minister, because the Attorney General had not yet released them, tore him to pieces.
They called him “dangerous,” “a power grabber,” “shutting down free speech,” and even suggested he was working against democracy.
Since Bibi served his first term as Prime Minister from 1996 until 1999, he and his wife Sara has been the subject of more than 21 police probes and investigations. The police recommended indicting the Netanyahu’s in three cases in 1999, but the Attorney General rejected their requests.
When Netanyahu returned by the democratic ballot box in 2009, parts of the anti-Bibi media constantly accused Netanyahu and his family of wrong doing. Still he won the elections of 2013 and 2015 and the left were fuming. They just could not remove him by the ballot box. So elements of the media played their part and in the last four years, even the Chief of Police leaked details and admitted on Channel 12 News, that Netanyahu was corrupt and recommended prosecution. So why all the talk, why not just convict if there is evidence?
Never before in the history of Israel has such a witch hunt occurred against a Prime Minister, his wife and their son. In the last 3 years, there have been six bribery charges – five of them have collapsed. But why did the Attorney General make the announcement now? We know that in recent weeks, his father’s grave has been vandalised, his car has been damaged several times, outside his house he has had to deal with demonstrators through the night shouting and screaming abuse.
In addition Avichai Mandelblit has received constant hate mail and abusive telephone calls including to his family. Netanyahu believes just like witnesses were pressured to give evidence against him, so was the Attorney General pressured into the announcement.
I have written in the past about other Members of Knesset who have been accused of all sorts of things including Tzipi Livni who led Kadima in the 2009 election and received 29 seats. Before the election, she was accused of wrong doing, but the case was dropped because it was said to have “influenced the outcome of the democratic election”.
If it’s not against Bibi, it’s not investigated. And they bring this up just before an election when a hearing will not take place for at least nine months. Only a court is authorized to determine whether a person is guilty or acquitted in Israel. But according to Orly Levy Abecassis who broke away from the Yisrael Beitenu party and now heads the Gesher party, she said, “Unlike regular people, public figures are not innocent until proven guilty.”
I don’t know whether Netanyahu is in breach of trust or guilty of bribery. But what I do know is this Prime Minister has presided over the longest ever period of stability in the economy. I do know that if it was not for Netanyahu and his constant shouting to the international community about the dangers of Iran, the world would be a much more dangerous place today. And finally I do know that it is Netanyahu that has reached out to so many nations (many of them Muslim) in Africa, Asia and South America to forge ties and sign essential trade deals.
Of course Netanyahu cannot go on forever, but to announce three indictments just before an important general election when a hearing is so far away, has a real bad whiff about it. And no, I do not think Netanyahu should resign until we can all hear his defence.
By James Marlow
James J. Marlow is a journalist and international news contributor: Email: James@TheJewishWeekly.com Follow on twitter: @James_J_Marlow