New Right party leader Naftali Bennett on Saturday night published a detailed public defense of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in light of the corruption cases against him, accusing the justice system of trying to “topple” the premier’s rule for political reasons and to intimidate future right-wing leaders.
Bennett’s lengthy Facebook post was a rare statement of support by the religious right-wing politician, who has often bashed heads with Netanyahu, presented himself as an alternative to him and in the past assailed him over the alleged crimes he committed.
“If the justice system manages to topple Netanyahu… it will be a critical blow for the entire right-wing bloc,” Bennett wrote. “A right-wing leader who comes after him will be emasculated and afraid of the media and of the justice system.”
As part of Case 4000, one of three graft probes in which he is facing prosecution, Netanyahu is suspected of personally overseeing a political hit job against Bennett himself, directly influencing editorial decisions on the Walla website in an effort to smear him with skewed reports.
Bennett published the post days before Netanyahu’s time to form a coalition runs out. The prime minister is expected to tell President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday that he has failed to muster a majority, as no headway has been made with negotiations with the Blue and White party for a unity government.
Bennett is part of the religious right-wing bloc of parties supporting Netanyahu, but last week his New Right party was the only member of the bloc to refuse to sign a renewed pledge of loyalty to the premier, deeming it unnecessary.
“At his darkest hour, I have decided to come to [Netanyahu’s] aid,” Bennett wrote. “Netanyahu isn’t perfect, but he was a very good prime minister for the State of Israel and its security. From the moment he entered politics they marked him. Leftist elements in the press, in academia, in culture and the legal system turned him into the ultimate symbol of evil.
“The time may and may not have come to replace [Netanyahu], but even if it has, it needs to be done through the voters’ ballots and not through an indictment,” Bennett said.
“He didn’t take bags of cash and didn’t transfer money to his personal bank accounts. He received slightly less hostile coverage on the Walla website, and way too many cigars and champagne. That is indeed not okay, but not something over which to topple a prime minister,” he added, attempting to belittle the pending charges against Netanyahu, which are detailed in a 57-page document put out in February by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.
Bennett listed a number of issues on which he was critical of Netanyahu, while also praising the prime minister’s conduct in other areas, and said “overall, his heart is in the right place.”
“He could have made millions of dollars in private life, but he he has chosen for years to go through hell day and night for all us,” Bennett said.
Bennett, who worked for Netanyahu while he served as opposition leader from 2006 to 2008, said he hoped pending charges against the premier would not be filed.
Earlier this month, Netanyahu’s lawyers attended four days of pre-indictment hearings with Mandelblit and state prosecutors in which they sought to refute the allegations against the premier.
Netanyahu faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in all three cases, as well as a bribery charge in Case 4000.
Case 4000 concerns allegations that Netanyahu pushed regulatory decisions financially benefiting Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of the Bezeq telecommunications group, in return for ongoing positive coverage from Bezeq’s Walla news site.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu is suspected of illicitly receiving gifts such as champagne, cigars and jewelry valued at some NIS 700,000 ($201,000) from billionaire benefactors Arnon Milchan and James Packer, and allegedly reciprocating in Milchan’s case with various forms of assistance.
Case 2000 revolves around suspicious Netanyahu made an illicit quid-pro-quo with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes to weaken a rival daily in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth. The agreement was never implemented.
Netanyahu, who denies any wrongdoing, has repeatedly claimed that he is the victim of a witch hunt by the media, the left, police and the state prosecution, designed to oust him from power.
Mandelblit is expected to reach a decision on whether to indict Netanyahu in the coming month or two.