Conservative New York Times columnist Bret Stephens compared Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to disgraced former US president Richard Nixon in a Friday op-ed, and called on the “cunning” and “toxically flawed” Israeli leader to resign in light of the Israeli attorney general’s declared intention to indict him for corruption.
“When the final chapter on Benjamin Netanyahu’s political life is written — and it may be a long time from now — he is likely to go down as the Richard Nixon of Israel: politically cunning, strategically canny, toxically flawed,” Stephens wrote.
Stephens, who is Jewish and a former editor of The Jerusalem Post, backed Netanyahu’s opposition to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
“Just as Nixon’s achievements in domestic and foreign policy were undone by skulduggery and paranoia, Netanyahu’s legacy has been permanently tarred by his apparent corruption, his appeals (or indifference) to bigotry and his demonization of his political opponents,” he added.
Stephens also sharply criticized Netanyahu for brokering a political deal that could see the extremist Otzma Yehudit party enter the Knesset, calling the pre-election gambit a “moral blight.”
The merger deal between the right-wing religious Jewish Home and Otzma Yehudit could see at least one member of the latter party, which comprises disciples of Rabbi Meir Kahane, enter the Knesset after the elections on April 9. Netanyahu brokered the deal to strengthen a potential Likud-led coalition last week amid the increasingly tight race between his Likud and Benny Gantz’s centrist Israel Resilience party.
“Prospectively bringing undoubted racists into his coalition is simply unforgivable,” said Stephens, and would only serve to “embolden the progressive assault on Israel.”
“Netanyahu is a man for whom no moral consideration comes before political interest and whose chief political interest is himself,” he added. “He is a cynic wrapped in an ideology inside a scheme.”
Netanyahu has faced opposition calls to step down after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Thursday announced his intention to indict him on corruption charges in three cases.
In Case 1000, involving accusations that Netanyahu received gifts and benefits from billionaire benefactors including Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan in exchange for favors, Mandelblit said he intends to charge Netanyahu with fraud and breach of trust.
In Case 2000, involving accusations Netanyahu agreed with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes to weaken a rival daily in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth, Mandelblit will seek to also charge the premier with breach of trust, while Mozes will be charged with bribery.
In Case 4000, the most serious against the premier, Netanyahu is accused of having advanced regulatory decisions that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in the Bezeq telecom giant, in exchange for positive coverage from the Elovitch-owned Walla news site. In that case Mandelblit announced he intends to charge both Netanyahu and Elovitch with bribery.
Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing in all three cases, and has alleged that the investigations against him are a “witch hunt” involving the left, the media and the police relentlessly pressuring a “weak” attorney general.
After Mandelblit’s announcement, Netanyahu dismissed the allegations as a “house of cards” that would collapse. He called the timing of the decision, six weeks before the election, “outrageous” and appeared emotional at times as he dismissed the charges as a “blood libel.” He vowed to debunk all allegations and said he would remain prime minister for “many years.”
He also claimed that two top state prosecutors had pushed for him to be charged for political reasons. State Attorney Shai Nitzan and Tel Aviv state prosecution head of taxation and economic crimes Liat Ben-Ari, the chief prosecutor in Netanyahu’s cases, “were the two prosecutors who pushed especially hard to indict me,” Netanyahu claimed.
The Justice Ministry called Netanyahu’s comments “baseless and misleading.”
While a sitting Israeli prime minister has never been this close to indictment before, Netanyahu is not obligated to resign. The planned indictment is still subject to a hearing, during which Netanyahu can plead his case before formal charges are filed. This process is expected to take up to a year to complete.
A poll published by the Kan public broadcaster Friday night found that 36% of Israelis believe that Netanyahu should resign now. A further 32% think he should step down if he is actually indicted after the completion of the hearing process.
AP contributed to this report.