Netanyahu Faces Corruption Charges that Aren't Likely to Stick

As the United States seeks to broker peace talks between Palestine and Israel, the Israeli Prime Minister may have larger problems on his hands.

In what is the third charge of corruption levied against Netanyahu this year, it was reported that the Israeli police had recommended proceeding with an indictment on allegations that the Prime Minister had received bribes, as well as other criminal charges.

This is not the first time that Netanyahu has faced down allegations of potentially criminal wrongdoing. In fact, there are five ongoing corruption cases that have at least tangential ties to the head man in Israel.

The two other cases were brought to light in February, and revolve around charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. The allegations paint the picture of a fully modern Prime Minster with a taste for the finer things.

‘One case concerns allegations that between 2007 and 2016, Netanyahu received about $282,000 worth of gifts in the form of cigars, champagne and jewelry from Australian businessman James Packer, the ex-fiancé of singer Mariah Carey, and from Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.’ (NPR)

In one of the cases, Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, is also implicated as the recipient of hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts from businesspeople. The Prime Minister was reportedly interviewed on seven different occasions with respect to the charges, and the police ultimately recommended indictment in February. About the cases, Netanyahu has remained adamant of his innocence.

‘“Nothing will happen, because nothing did happen.” He accepts he and his wife received gifts, but insists they were legal gifts from close friends.’ (The JC)

Another cases for which Netanyahu has been recommended for indictment involves unseemly influence of a powerful Israeli tabloid, Yedioth Ahronot. According to the allegations, Netanyahu sought to restrict the circulation of Yedioth’s rival paper, Yisrael Ha'Yom, in exchange for positive coverage of his job performance. Netanyahu was caught on tape discussing the tit-for-tat, and has not denied the content of the recordings, though he’s stated that they are par for the course in terms of relations between politicians and the media.

Yet another allegation states that Netanyahu’s senior aides and advisors accepted illegal bribes to make easier the acquisition of German submarines. Six people with links to Netanyahu have been recommended for indictment. Further charges detail allegations that Shlomo Filber, a close Netanyahu aide, helped an Israeli telecom firm’s main shareholder sell his shares at an inflated price by leaking insider information. Lastly, Sara Netanyahu stands accused of misusing public funds at both the family’s private and public residences.

And now, the latest charges.

‘In the new case against him, Mr. Netanyahu is not accused of getting rich himself, but of enriching the country’s biggest telecommunications company, Bezeq, at the public’s expense and for the sake of his own image and that of his wife and family.

Between 2012 and 2017, Mr. Netanyahu “intervened in a blatant and ongoing manner, and sometimes even daily,” in coverage at Walla, a news website owned by Bezeq, the police said. This ensured “flattering articles and pictures” were published and critical content about him and his family was removed.’ (NYT)

Netanyahu has remained in power as Prime Minister of Israel since 1996, and for most has become synonymous with Israel itself. After the resignation of defense minister Avigdor Lieberman in November, Netanyahu took over the role, adding more responsibilities to a plate that already included health minister, foreign minister, and of course, prime minister. Though Netanyahu would become the first sitting Israeli prime minster to be indicted on criminal charges, there’s a good chance that the allegations won’t stick.

For one, the decision of how to proceed with each of the cases falls on Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who was appointed by Netanyahu. Mandelblit has stated that, if an indictment is ultimately filed, it will fall on the High Court to decide whether the Prime Minister will have to resign.

But, all indications are that Netanyahu will not resign. He’s treated the charges as if they are smear campaigns levied by his political opponents, and has even made light of their seriousness.

“The witch hunt against us continues,” he told a gathering of activists from his Likud party.

Noting that Sunday was the first night of the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, he said, “We’re celebrating the victory of light over darkness,” adding that the light will always win out.

“A true Hanukkah miracle,” he said. “What a beautiful present they gave us for the holiday.” (NYT)

Depending on Mandelblit’s decision, and any subsequent decisions levied by the high court, the potential legal battle between Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Israeli legal system could be long, prolong, and ugly. Or, if Mandelblit rules differently, it could be nothing at all.

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