Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu To Be Indicted

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the week­ly cab­i­net meet­ing at the prime min­is­ter’s office, in Jerusalem, Sunday, Jan. 27, 2019. (Abir Sultan Pool via AP)

Israel’s attor­ney gen­er­al on Thursdayannounced he will indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on cor­rup­tion charges, local media report­ed. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said he planned to charge Netanyahu with bribery, fraud and breach of trust. All charges are sub­ject to a hear­ing, which will like­ly take place after a snap elec­tion to be held in April. 
Police inves­ti­ga­tors rec­om­mend­ed pros­e­cut­ing Netanyahu on sev­er­al counts last year, set­ting up months of pub­lic spec­u­la­tion over when Mandelblit would announce the charges. The indict­ment is now like­ly to be a focal point of the cam­paign as Netanyahu vies for a fifth term in office. 
Netanyahu’s Likud par­ty unsuc­cess­ful­ly staged a last-ditch effort to pro­tect him, peti­tion­ing the high court ear­li­er Thursday to block Mandelblit’s announce­ment. 

Netanyahu has sur­vived mul­ti­ple scan­dals over his decades in Israeli pol­i­tics ― rang­ing from pub­licly admit­ting to an extra­mar­i­tal affair on the evening news to fac­ing graft and bribery alle­ga­tions ― but has nev­er before faced an offi­cial indict­ment. Although cor­rup­tion and graft charges are not unusu­al in Israeli pol­i­tics, the coun­try has also nev­er had a sit­ting prime min­is­ter con­vict­ed of a crime. Police inves­ti­gat­ed Netanyahu in three sep­a­rate cas­es. The first case accus­es Netanyahu of improp­er­ly accept­ing about $270,000 in lux­u­ry gifts, such as cig­ars and jew­el­ry, from bil­lion­aires James Packer and Arnon Milchan. Netanyahu alleged­ly helped Milchan with tax exemp­tions and oth­er favors. In anoth­er case, police believe Netanyahu tried to make a deal to get favor­able press cov­er­age in one of Israel’s biggest news­pa­pers in exchange for dam­ag­ing a rival pub­li­ca­tion. The third case also con­cerns Netanyahu alleged­ly try­ing to engi­neer pos­i­tive press ― this time push­ing through reg­u­la­to­ry deci­sions to ben­e­fit the country’s biggest telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pa­ny, Bezeq, which owns a pop­u­lar Israeli web­site.

The cor­rup­tion inves­ti­ga­tion into Netanyahu’s sus­pect­ed deal­ings began in 2016, but inten­si­fied when the prime minister’s for­mer chief of staff Ari Harow began coop­er­at­ing with inves­ti­ga­tors in the sum­mer of 2017 in a bid to avoid jail time. Israeli police made mul­ti­ple rec­om­men­da­tions last year to indict Netanyahu, say­ing that there was suf­fi­cient evi­dence to charge him. Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, was also indict­ed on fraud charges last year for mis­us­ing $100,000 in state funds in a sep­a­rate case.Netanyahu has gone to great lengths to char­ac­ter­ize the alle­ga­tions against him as a “witch hunt” from “the left and the media” intend­ed to force him out of office. He’s asked to pub­licly con­front the state’s wit­ness­es against him, called the alle­ga­tions a “joke” and claimed that announc­ing the indict­ments before an elec­tion would be unfair­ly dam­ag­ing to his cam­paign. Earlier this year, he gave a nation­al­ly tele­vised address to dis­pute the alle­ga­tions and again cast him­self as the vic­tim of a polit­i­cal plot.

Although Netanyahu dis­missed the inves­ti­ga­tions, he also tried to bar­gain with the attor­ney gen­er­al and request­ed in mid-January that any indict­ment announce­ment be delayed until after the elec­tion. Israeli law does not require a prime min­is­ter to step down even if they are indict­ed, how­ev­er, and Netanyahu has made it clear he will con­test the charges against him as he attempts to remain in pow­er. Prior to the charges, Netanyahu was wide­ly expect­ed to win re-elec­tion in April’s vote, but fall far short of the num­bers need­ed for major­i­ty rule. In pre­vi­ous months he was able to main­tain a shaky coali­tion gov­ern­ment between his Likud par­ty and allies made up of far-right and reli­gious par­ties. If Netanyahu does man­age to win in April and suc­cess­ful­ly form a gov­ern­ment, he stands to become Israel’s longest-serv­ing prime min­is­ter.

Netanyahu is one of President Donald Trump’s staunchest defend­ers abroad, tout­ing the president’s deci­sion to move the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem in his cam­paign videos and offer­ing sup­port for Trump’s bor­der wall with Mexico.


Nick Robins-EarlySenior World News Reporter, HuffPostSuggest a cor­rec­tion