Netanyahu to be indicted on charges of bribery, fraud

The prime minister has denied wrongdoing in the three cases against him, calling the investigations against him a 'witch hunt' by the media, police, and Israeli left.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen during a meeting of the right-wing parties bloc at the Knesset, Jerusalem, November 20, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen during a meeting of the right-wing parties bloc at the Knesset, Jerusalem, November 20, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

After three years of investigations, Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be charged with bribery, fraud and breach in three corruption cases on Thursday. This is the first time in Israeli history that a sitting prime minister will face indictment in criminal investigations.

The prime minister has denied wrongdoing in the three cases, and has previously said he would not step down if indicted. He has repeatedly called the investigations against him a “witch hunt” by the media, the police, and the Israeli left. The announcement comes at a desperate moment for Netanyahu, who failed to put together a government following both elections this year.

Netanyahu is not required by law to step down, although the indictments against him could make it increasingly difficult for him to hold on to power. Formal charges could take months, since Netanyahu is expected to ask the Knesset for parliamentary immunity. The Knesset and its House Committee will be asked to rule on matters of immunity, but can only do so once a new coalition is formed — either in the coming weeks or after the next round of elections, which could take place in March of next year.

The charges revolve around three cases, known as Case 1000, Case 2000, and Case 4000. In Case 1000, Netanyahu is accused of fraud and breach of trust for receiving gifts and benefits from billionaire patrons in exchange for political favors. Case 2000, in which the prime minister is also accused of bribe and breach of trust, involves Netanyahu’s alleged agreement with Arnon Mozes, the publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, to reduce the circulation of rival newspaper Israel Hayom — and perhaps even stop it from putting out a weekend magazine edition — in return for more favorable coverage in Yedioth.

In Case 4000, considered the most serious of the three, Mandelblit has decided to charge Netanyahu with bribery. The prime minister is suspected of having promoted regulatory decisions that benefited Israeli businessman Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Israel’s largest telecommunications company, and who owns Israeli news site Walla!, in exchange for positive news coverage. Netanyahu has adamantly denied any wrongdoing.

Here are some of the articles +972 Magazine has published on the ongoing investigations into Netanyahu’s corruption scandals, and what they mean for democracy, the state of the Israeli press, and Palestinians:

  • Dahlia Scheindlin wrote about why Netanyahu’s refusal to resign is only one of the deep offenses to democracy that the investigations have come to represent. “What should be an enviable display of independent law enforcement agencies holding public representatives accountable is turning into a showcase — and possibly a harbinger — of the erosion of democratic norms in Israel,” she writes.
  • Writing about the Yedioth scandal, Shuki Tausig, who heads The Seventh Eye media watchdog site, believes Netanyahu’s shady dealings with Mozes reveal the driving force behind Israel’s biggest newspapers: profit and ideology. The type of corruption exhibited by the deal, writes Tausig, couldn’t exist in media outlets with truly independent journalists.
  • Amjad Iraqi argued that should Netanyahu be found guilty, Israel’s post-Bibi politics portend growing misfortune for Palestinians. All leadership contenders, from the right to the center-left, have histories of espousing racist and violent views of Palestinians as being either nuisances to tolerate or threats to be destroyed.