Netanyahu hits back after police recommend corruption charges

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered an immediate response live on television to the police announcement that he should face criminal charges.

Netanyahu denied all allegations against him, insisting the investigation “will end in nothing”.

He began by listing examples in his career in the army, as a diplomat and throughout politics. He said he has been solely focused on “the good of the nation”.

Addressing allegations, in Case 1000, that he and his wife Sara received gifts from businessmen Arnon Milchan and James Packer, the Prime Minister said: “How can one take seriously the claim that I acted on Milchan’s behalf in exchange for cigars? I did the exact opposite—by endeavouring to close Channel 10, partly owned by Milchan himself.”

He added: “How can you say that I acted on Milchan’s behalf for cigars if one of my actions as finance minister was to break his monopoly in the car parts market, in complete contravention of his interests?”

Netanyahu acknowledged that he helped Milchan with his visa issues, but said Milchan had done much for Israel and noted that the late President Shimon Peres had also been close to Milchan.

Reflecting on Case 2000 and allegations that he helped the owner and publisher of the Yediot Ahronot newspaper, Arnon “Noni” Mozes, Netanyahu said: “How can it be said that I wanted to act on Mozes’s behalf by passing the bill to close down Israel Hayom, when in reality I did the opposite? I voted against the bill, dissolved the Knesset and risked my political future. Unlike me, 43 ministers and MKs acted on Mozes’s behalf and as his emissaries.” “They promoted his bills and in return received flattering coverage from Yedioth Ahronoth. Why has no recommendation been made against them?” he added.

Netanayhu said that he is “only driven by a single thing, to preserve our country’s future”. He reaffirmed that he “will continue leading Israel with the utmost responsibility and loyalty so long as you, the people of Israel, elect me to do so. I’m certain the truth will come to light, and I’m also certain I’ll once again be awarded your trust in the next elections, God willing”.

Mozes, lawyers Navit Noga and Iris Niv-Sabag, said: “The relationship between the media and public officials, including politicians, is a cornerstone of a democratic state. Any attempt to portray such a relationship – as complex and complicated as it may be – as criminal, is problematic and dangerous.

Arnon Milchan’s legal team said: “The police’s recommendation to indict for bribery will not stand. The recommendation ignores fundamental facts, which none dispute, including the fact that the relationship between Milchan and Netanyahu began in the early 2000s, when Netanyahu was not holding any public office. This relationship was characterised by friendship between the two and their families.”

Kan Radio News reported that Yair Lapid will likely be a witness for the prosecution against the prime minister if a decision is made to indict Netanyahu. Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman of the Ultra-Orthodox UTJ said that Lapid’s shame had been revealed and Likud Ministers Yariv Levin and Miri Regev strongly criticised Lapid. Israeli Minister of Education Naftali Bennett on Wednesday said Netanyahu was “not living up to [the] standard” expected of Israel’s leaders. Speaking at the annual gathering of municipal and local authority leadership in Tel Aviv, Minister Bennett stressed Israel was a state of law, and that the Prime Minister was still presumed innocent. “I trust the policemen and the Chief of Police,” and added: “I have decided to wait until the decision of the Attorney General, Avihai Mandelbleit. I trust his integrity and strength.”

Zionist Union Chairman Avi Gabbay said that the Netanyahu era was over, while Hatnuah leader Tzipi Livni responded that the campaign by Netanyahu against the police was an attempt “to undermine the police, the law enforcement agencies, to delegitimize them, to claim that they are motivated by irrelevant interests. One minister after the other, at Netanyahu’s behest, speaks out and destroys the law enforcement agencies. The sitting prime minister is corrupt.”