Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday slammed the media and said ties with the Arab world continued to be strong, as he celebrated his party’s electoral victory a day before he is expected to be tasked with forming a new government.
Speaking before an adoring crowd, Netanyahu lashed out at Channel 12 news analyst Amnon Abramovich, who on Friday joked that if Netanyahu were to make Likud MK Yariv Levin justice minister, it would add a year to his sentence in the corruption cases against him. The premier is facing indictment in three separate cases in the coming months, pending a hearing.
The prime minister has denied the allegations and said the cases are part of a political witch hunt designed to oust him, involving the left, the media and the police pressuring a weak attorney general.
Levin is thought to be a frontrunner to replace Ayelet Shaked as Justice Minister. Like Shaked, Levin has expressed support for clamping down on the Supreme Court and removing its ability to act as a check on the legislature.
Following an outcry, Abramovich said his remarks were made in jest, but Netanyahu described them as a threat against him Tuesday night.
Abramovich, a reporter and prominent commentator who has covered the criminal investigations into Netanyahu, has drawn a steady stream of criticism from Netanyahu and his supporters.
The prime minister has repeatedly railed against the media, which he describes as leftist and hostile, including earlier Tuesday, when he lashed out at the Ynet news site as “fake news” pushing “futile investigations” against him after the site reported police had opened a preliminary investigation into a decade-old stock deal with Netanyahu’s cousin.
“We will safeguard democracy,” Netanyahu said at the victory event Tuesday night. “I have to say that, because some haven’t understood the consequence of democracy. Over the weekend I watched TV and thought I misheard. Scholarly analysts were sitting in the studios and making explicit threats against me, that I will pay a personal price.”
“I’m not afraid of threats and not deterred from the media,” he said.
Netanyahu also said he had received “many” congratulations from Arab leaders on his electoral victory, though he didn’t provide any details.
President Reuven Rivlin is set to officially task Netanyahu with forming the next government on Wednesday after senior members of parties representing 65 of the 120 Knesset members recommended Netanyahu for the premiership in consultations with Rivlin over the past two days.
“I want all parts of Israeli society, Jews and non-Jews alike, to be part of the huge success story called the State of Israel,” he said, speaking alongside his wife Sara, in front of thousands of supporters at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem.
Netanyahu left the event early to visit his adult son Avner, who was hospitalized Tuesday night after not feeling well, according to the family’s spokesperson.
Avner Netanyahu was undergoing routine tests and was in good condition, the spokesperson said.
Netanyahu’s Likud party is expected to start coalition negotiations on Thursday with representatives of right-wing and Haredi factions, Walla news reported.
The final election results were published by the Central Elections Committee Tuesday night and will be presented Wednesday to Rivlin, who will then meet with Netanyahu.
The prime minister is likely to build a coalition of 65 seats comprising Likud (35 seats), the ultra-Orthodox Shas (8), United Torah Judaism (8), Union of Right-Wing Parties (5), Yisrael Beytenu (5) and Kulanu (4).
After Rivlin makes the selection, Netanyahu will have 28 days to form a government, with the possibility of a two-week extension at the discretion of the president.