Israel’s Prime Minister Faces Corruption Charges

Concluding a yearlong graft investigation, Israeli police recommended on Tuesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should be charged with alleged bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in two separate corruption cases. The first, known as Case 1000, relates to accusations that Netanyahu accepted almost $300,000 in gifts from two business tycoons over the course of a decade in exchange for political favours. The second, called Case 2000, has placed Netanyahu under suspicion of involvement in back-room dealings with Arnon Mozes, publisher of the popular newspaper Yediot Aharonot, to secure positive press coverage. The announcement has raised questions regarding the ability of Israel’s Prime Minister to stay in office.

As expected, opposition politicians were leading these calls. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak Tweeted on Tuesday night the police findings were “hair-raising” and declared that Netanyahu ought to step down, be ousted by his coalition, or otherwise declare himself “incapacitated.” Further, Stav Shaffir, of the left-leaning Zionist Union party, addressed Netanyahu’s coalition on Twitter and wrote: “if you have a drop of concern for the future, fulfil your obligation [and] free Israel from this madness.” Instead, a number of coalition members were outspoken against the investigation. Speaking to Walla news, the coalition’s chairman, Dudi Amsalem, asserted that “in a democracy, a regime is changed in an election and not through the army or police.”

It is still by no means certain that the Prime Minister will face any consequences. The police are only able to make recommendations. Rather it will be Avichai Mandelblit, Israel’s attorney-general, who will be responsible for determining whether Prime Minister Netanyahu should face charges, with this decision potentially taking months to reach. For his part, Netanyahu has vehemently denied participation in any wrongdoing, saying the summary of the evidence that investigators had amassed against him was “a slanted document, extreme, full of holes, like Swiss cheese, and holds no water,” and vowed that he will continue in his role. “Over the years, I have been the subject of at least fifteen enquiries and investigations,” Netanyahu said in a television address, “all of those… resulted in nothing, and this time again they will come to nothing.”

Indeed, these most recent corruption allegations are not the first that Netanyahu has come up against. Following his first term as Prime Minister two decades ago, the police recommended that he and his wife be served criminal charges after they were found to be keeping official gifts that should have been handed to the state. The couple faced accusations again in July 2015 for charging the government for the services of a contractor who did private work for them. In both cases, the charges were dropped. As a result of his ability to weather these earlier police enquiries, which struggled to make accusations stick, the New York Times sometimes referred to Netanyahu as “Mr. Teflon.”

Benjamin Netanyahu has been a dominant figure in Israel’s political landscape for decades and will become the country’s longest-serving leader if he manages to maintain his position until the forthcoming election in November 2019. In part, he has managed to defend his position by eroding pivotal institutions that mediate the powers of his office, including the Israeli judiciary, the press, non-governmental organisations and, as these latest developments demonstrate, the police. Irrespective of the outcome of the current scandal, various analysts have warned that his efforts to foster distrust of Israeli law enforcement investigators could itself be harmful in the long-term.