Israel Police on Tuesday night announced it has collected evidence showing that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took bribes in two cases, acting contrary to the interests of the state.
Netanyahu issued a public statement in response, arguing that these recommendations have no status in a democracy. “I don’t say this defiantly, I say this to point out a fundamental fact of our democracy,” he said in an emotional appeal on Israeli TV which quickly made it to the social networks, arguing: “Israel is a country of law, and according to the law, it is not the police that determines guilt – only the authorized legal entities.”
However, at least one legal entity, Israel’s High Court of Justice, this week ruled that police can and, in fact, must make its recommendations to the state prosecution in the Netanyahu investigations.
According to police, in file 1000 Netanyahu and his family received champagne, cigars, jewelry and clothes upon demand and in a systematic manner, with an accumulated value of 1 million shekel ($280,000) over a period of around 10 years. Police say the rate of those benefits increased after Netanyahu was elected prime minister.
Police also revealed that Yesh Atid chairman and a former finance minister in Netanyahu’s cabinet, Yair Lapid, will serve as a key witness against the PM. Police also recommended that Israeli billionaire businessman Arnon Milchan who allegedly provided the Netanyahus with an estimated $200,000 in luxury cigars and champagne, should also be put on trial for bribery, as should Mozes.
Lapid is also aiming to be the next prime minister.
Police determined that in file 2000 Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth owner/publisher Arnon (Noni) Mozes had a clear give-and-take relationship, with both parties taking actions that followed the verbal understanding that had been reached between them.
The police discovered that on one particular Friday, Netanyahu assembled a group of MKs at his home to help figure out a way to help Mozes with legislation that would be hostile to Israel Hayom, a daily giveaway established by Billionaire Sheldon Adelson to help boost Netanyahu’s career. The police stressed that the illegal collaboration between the prime minister and the publisher were not faked, despite Netanyahu’s claims to that effect.
In his 12-minute response on television, a visibly shaken Netanyahu opened by reminding Israelis of his long record as a special forces officer, Israel’s UN envoy, finance minister and, finally, as prime minister.
“You know that I do everything with one thing in front of my eyes – the good of the country, the embattled PM declared, adding, “Not for cigars from a friend, not for journalistic coverage, not for anything – just the good of the country.”
Painting himself as a victim of years of persecution, Netanyahu told Israelis that “this day is no different from many other days I’ve been through for the last twenty years. Since I was elected prime minister, I have hardly had one day when slander and false claims have not been leveled against me. And they attack not only me, they cruelly and viciously attack my wife and my children as well, to get to me. It hurts me, because I love them very much.”
“During these years, tremendous pressure was exerted to open against me no less than 15 investigations, aimed at overthrowing me,” the strongest man in Israel complained. “They all started with explosive headlines, live broadcasts from the studios, some with police recommendations just as scandalous as tonight’s.”
“All these attempts, without exception, ended with nothing,” Netanyahu stressed. “And since I know the truth, I tell you: this time things will end up with nothing again. The recommendations we heard today were published more than a year ago, at the very beginning of the investigation, and since then they have been repeated over and over again, countless times.”
Referring to a recent interview his chief of police gave an investigative TV show in which he levied unsubstantiated accusations against the PM, Netanyahu said “the recommendations published tonight are accompanied by a heavy shadow. It is impossible to shake off the impression that they were influenced by the baseless feelings of investigative elements who believe that I acted against them, that I sent a female police officer to complain about sexual harassment by the head of the unit that was investigating me; that I initiated surveillance against police investigators; that I had been running someone in London against the investigators.”
“My friends, of course, these are false claims, completely false,” Netanyahu assured his audience, challenging them to “think what this says about the investigation, and what does it say about the police recommendations if the same person who investigates you says that you have fabricated a [sexual assault] against him? How is he able to conduct the investigation objectively? And how can he give objective recommendations?”
“I am sure that when the competent legal entities will examine all the material, they will discover how all these recommendations are refuted,” the PM suggested, and went in great detail into his own counter-arguments in every item of the police recommendations.
These are clearly trying times, which is why so many members of the opposition, such as Zehava Gal-On (Meretz) have already recommended that Netanyahu take time out, find a replacement from within his own party and go fight his legal battle. Coalition members such as Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) were not nearly as enthusiastic about replacing the PM as long as he has not been tried and actually found guilty.
Netanyahu for his part vowed to continue running his coalition government for the duration of its term, thank you very much.