Opposition leaders call on Netanyahu to resign over corruption cases
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Opposition leaders call on Netanyahu to resign over corruption cases

After ex-aide to PM turns state's witness in investigations, Labor head Gabbay says Israelis 'deserve a different leadership'

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a corner stone laying ceremony for a new neighborhood in the West Bank settlement of Beitar Illit on August 3, 2017. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a corner stone laying ceremony for a new neighborhood in the West Bank settlement of Beitar Illit on August 3, 2017. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

Several opposition leaders and MKs on Saturday called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to step down, amid growing expectation that the premier will be indicted in a pair of corruption investigations.

Labor party chief Avi Gabbay said Saturday that Netanyahu must resign, as “the citizens of Israel deserve a different leadership.”

“We no longer have any expectations of Netanyahu,” Channel 10 quoted Gabbay as saying. “This is no longer a matter of right or left but leaders that look out for the citizens.”

The growing calls for Netanyahu to resign came after a key associate of the prime minister signed a deal on Friday to turn state’s witness as part of the ongoing investigations into alleged corruption by the premier.

Hebrew media reported Friday that police will recommend filing indictments against Netanyahu in two cases — Case 1000 and Case 2000 — as the investigations appear to be strengthened by “significant material” provided by Netanyahu’s former chief of staff and aide, Ari Harow.

A police recommendation does not carry legal weight. It is for state prosecutors to decide whether to press charges.

Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah called on coalition members to drop their support for Netanyahu, saying they too would be ousted from government if they do not abandon the prime minister.

“Anyone who preserves Netanyahu’s collapsing government will fall with him in the end,” he said in a statement, adding that “an indictment against the prime minister is no longer a question of if but when.”

Labor leader Avi Gabbay attends the weekly protest against Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit outside Mandelblit's home in Petah Tikva on July 15, 2017. (Flash90)
Labor leader Avi Gabbay attends the weekly protest against Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit outside Mandelblit’s home in Petah Tikva on July 15, 2017. (Flash90)

Echoing Shelah, Meretz party leader Zehava Galon called on coalition lawmakers to stop serving as Netanyahu’s “protective armor.”

“MKs who continue to support the prime minister are serving as his protective armor and who are trying to convince us that there is campaign against him, bear heavy responsibility for the corruption of the state and democracy,” she said speaking at a cultural event.

Galon also called on Netanyahu to step down until the conclusion of the cases against him, noting the prime minister’s own calls for former prime minister Ehud Olmert to resign amid growing corruption allegations against him.

In response to the calls for Netanyahu to resign, Coalition Chairman David Bitan (Likud) accused Shelah and Galon of seeking to topple Netanyahu through investigations.

“The representatives of the left Zehava Galon and Ofer Shelah know full well that Netanyahu is the true obstacle to the rise of the left to power. They know full well that Netanyahu will continue to win at the ballot box and therefore they are trying to replace the Likud government by means of investigations,” he said.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, whose Jewish Home party sits in the coalition, told Channel 2 that “if we arrive at a situation in which an indictment is served, the coalition parties will sit down and consider what to do.”

On Wednesday, Shaked said that Netanyahu will not be forced to resign if he is indicted in either of the investigations into alleged financial and political corruption.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, speaks with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in the Knesset, December 21, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, speaks with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in the Knesset, December 21, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“According to the law, the prime minister does not need to step down, so let’s wait and see what happens,” she told the Ynet news website.

“It needs to be something extreme to warrant toppling a government; holding elections is not a small thing,” she added.

According to a statement from the Israel Police Friday, Harow is expected to receive six months of community service and a NIS 700,000 fine ($193,000) on breach of trust charges in exchange for his testimony against his former boss.

In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.

Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister hobble a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, through Knesset legislation in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and his then-chief of staff Ari Harow arrives at a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset, November 24, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and his then-chief of staff Ari Harow arrives at a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset, November 24, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Harow is expected to provide information in both probes, having served as chief of staff during the time of the alleged deal with Mozes and while Netanyahu is said to have received gifts worth thousands of shekels.

Channel 2 reported Friday that Harow was sent by Netanyahu to finalize the deal with Mozes, giving him — and police — first-hand knowledge of the suspected deal. Harow reportedly gave police details on the understandings reached between Netanyahu and Mozes, strengthening the police case beyond recordings discovered on Harow’s computer of their meetings in late 2014 and early 2015. This information comes from a separate police investigation into Harow’s affairs.

Harow is also expected to provide details on the method of gift-giving to the Netanyahus by Milchan and the prime minister’s awareness of it. Netanyahu is a primary suspect in the case; both he and his wife have consistently denied wrongdoing.

In a Friday evening video before the start of Shabbat, Netanyahu said the investigations against him were “background noise” and that he was focused on working on behalf of Israeli citizens. It came hours after the deal with Harow was announced.

Police on Thursday explicitly said for the first time that a number of corruption investigations involving Netanyahu deal with “bribery, fraud and breach of trust.” The police stopped short of saying that the Israeli leader was directly suspected of these crimes.

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