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NETANYAHU INDICTMENT ROCKS ISRAELI ELECTION CAMPAIGN

Benjamin Netanyahu

It was a long time coming, but it still hit the Jewish state like a bombshell. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has finally presented a 45-page indictment that would charge Prime Minister Netanyahu with three separate charges of bribery and breach of trust. These are grave offenses that could lead to a prison sentence. However, it's a long way from over - Israeli law entitles public officials to a pre-trial hearing before the Attorney General serves the indictment. (This is to prevent innocent public officials from being dragged into court by political rivals or wacky citizens.) 

The Netanyahu indictment comes smack in the middle of an already fierce election campaign with voters doomed to go the polls on April 9 without a final decision on the charge, as Bibi's pre-trial hearing will not take place before then. Therefore, Bibi will be leading his ruling Likud party into a crucial election with the indictment hanging over his head.

The two other charges involve Bibi's massive attempt to try and fix more favorable media coverage in return for two deals with the publisher of the Yediot Ahronot newspaper, and the owner of the Bezeq communications cooperation.

The charges against the PM involve accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts of cigars, champagne, and jewelry for the Netanyahu couple from two fat cats. Public officials are strictly prohibited from accepting "gifts of any kind." While the PM admits to receiving the gifts, he contends that friends are entitled to exchange them and he did nothing illegal; this is patently false. One of the witnesses has turned state's witness.

The two other charges (possibly the more serious) involve Bibi's massive attempt to try and fix more favorable media coverage in return for two deals with the publisher of the Yediot Ahronot newspaper, and the owner of the Bezeq communications cooperation. In these cases, several former Netanyahu aids have also turned state's witness, and there are even damning recordings of Netanyahu himself. It is reasonable to say that Bibi is up to his neck in a legal mess, and it would appear that the Attorney General has the goods on him. To make matters even worse, the AG is a former sidekick of the PM - Bibi appointed Madelblit attorney general after his loyal service as cabinet secretary. And it gets even worse; the former Chief of Police who lead the investigation was also a Netanyahu appointee, and he also found grounds for prosecuting the PM.

So, Netanyahu is in boiling water and will obviously find it extremely difficult to convince Mandelblit that he is a clean as the driven snow, which he never tires of declaring. Bibi's strategy is based on the fast-approaching election day charging that there is a massive witch-hunt to prevent his being re-elected. Netanyahu contends that the Left has orchestrated the campaign and intimidated the entire legal system, including the attorney general, the chief of police, and state prosecutors.

His political rivals could not beat him at the ballot box, and so are now trying to topple him on trumped-up charges.

Within two hours of the indictment, the Prime Minister spoke to the nation denying all the charges, saying they were nothing but lies. His political rivals could not beat him at the ballot box, and so are now trying to topple him on trumped-up charges. Bibi obviously hopes that despite the corruption charges his Likud party will win the upcoming election and thereby be able to contend, "the people have now spoken," and they demand he carries on as Prime Minister.

The question now is what impact the attorney general's indictment will have on Netanyahu's supporters? His own Likud party is standing firmly behind him - at this point, no Likud rival can hold a candle up to Netanyahu. The country is now awaiting the opinion polls after the charges have been reviewed. For his part, Netanyahu maintains that in his pre-trial hearing (which will take place after election day) he and his numerous lawyers will be able to refute all the charges.

Benny Gantz, former IDF Chief of Staff and leader of new "Israel Resiliance" political party

In the opposition, runner-up Benny Gantz of the Blue & White Centrist party also addressed the nation calling on Bibi to immediately resign in light of the indictment. Gantz quoted from Bibi himself, who several years ago while serving as opposition leader, called on the then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to immediately step down amid his indictment for accepting a gift of $500,000. Gantz recalled what Bibi had then said, "A Prime Minister cannot fulfill his duty if he is preoccupied with fighting a court case over his own corruption." Summing up, in this uncertain hour, Mandelblit's indictment may persuade some undecided voters, and possibly some Likudniks, that Bibi must go. But, will they be enough to swing the election result? It's still too early to say. So far, not only the Likud but also the ultra-orthodox and far Right parties have declared that they are still sticking with Bibi - indictment or not!

"Our liberty depends on freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without our liberty being lost."

And this final thought about Netanyahu's apparent attempt to rig key players in the Israeli press, such as the Yediot Ahronot newspaper and Walla news agency - time to read the words of Thomas Jefferson, "Our liberty depends on freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without our liberty being lost."


 

Political Analyst David Essing

 


David Essing

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