Liberman: 'Allow the justice system to do its work'

PM ‘cannot serve one more day’: Calls for resignation multiply over indictment

Politicians from center and left insist Netanyahu must go; Likud loyalist Zohar charges prosecutors are on a witch hunt, vows ‘we will not be silent’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks after being tasked by President Reuven Rivlin (not pictured) with forming a new government, during a press conference in Jerusalem, September 25, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks after being tasked by President Reuven Rivlin (not pictured) with forming a new government, during a press conference in Jerusalem, September 25, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Centrist and left-wing political leaders called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign after the bombshell announcement Thursday that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit had decided to charge the premier in three criminal corruption cases.

The Blue and White party, whose leader Benny Gantz is Netanyahu’s main political challenger for the premiership, posted a creative call for his resignation — using Netanyahu’s own call 11 years earlier for scandal-plagued, then-premier Ehud Olmert to resign as the latter battled corruption allegations.

“A prime minister neck deep in investigations has no moral or public mandate to make fateful decisions for the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said of Olmert in the video, now repurposed by Gantz.

Netanyahu added at the time: “There is a fear, I must say, and it is real and not unfounded, that he will make his decisions based on his personal interest for political survival, not on the national interest.”

Mandelblit announced Thursday that Netanyahu will be charged with criminal wrongdoing in three separate cases against him, including bribery in the far-reaching Bezeq corruption probe.

The decision marks the first time in Israel’s history that a serving prime minister faces criminal charges, casting a heavy shadow over Netanyahu as he battles to remain in power.

Most of the responses came from Netanyahu’s political opponents.

Gantz tweeted simply that the indictment was “a very sad day for the State of Israel.”

Blue and White’s No. 2 Yair Lapid called for Netanyahu to resign, declaring that he “cannot continue to serve” as prime minister.

“It is unthinkable that a prime minister will order strikes in Syria at night and fight with witnesses in the morning,” Lapid continued, adding that “it is unthinkable that he will drag the entire country down into dangerous depths that will end in an unprecedented internal crisis and even violence.

“Until the last few years Benjamin Netanyahu dedicated his life to strengthening the State of Israel,” he said. “If he still cares about the country he should do one more thing for it — resign.”

Blue and White MK Ofer Shelah charged that “Netanyahu and his people are engaged in a last-ditch effort to destroy the justice system in order to save Bibi [Netanyahu]. This cannot be allowed to happen. And we cannot allow someone indicted for bribery to be prime minister.”

Blue and White’s No. 4, MK Gabi Ashkenazi, also called on Netanyahu to resign: “The day that an indictment is filed against a prime minister is a sad day for the State of Israel. I hope for Netanyahu’s sake and for that of the citizens of the State of Israel that he will be acquitted, but there is no doubt that he must now concentrate on his own case rather than on running the state.”

Gabi Ashkenazi, one of the leaders of the Blue and White political alliance, speaks during a press conference in Tel Aviv on March 18, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Democratic Camp leader Nitzan Horowitz insisted that “Netanyahu must go now. For the sake of the citizens of Israel and the state, he cannot stay in power for one more minute. Those who cling to their blind loyalty to him will be remembered as having helped in the most serious corruption yet of Israeli democracy, and of directly hurting the country.”

Fellow Democratic Camp lawmaker Tamar Zandberg echoed the sentiment.

“Now it’s final: The prime minister cannot serve even one more day. He must resign this very evening. He has no mandate to run the state. If he does not do this no one should agree to sit in his government or his party. He should not run for election and cannot receive a mandate to form a government. He must leave public life immediately.”

Arab Joint List chief Ayman Odeh, labeled along with fellow Arab lawmakers a “terror supporter” in Netanyahu’s recent election campaigns, said it would take time to repair the damage Netanyahu has caused.

“On the day Netanyahu pays for his criminal misdeeds, we will be able to begin to repair the damage he caused with his social misdeeds. The racism and the hatred that he caused will not disappear with his behavior, and it is up to us — Arabs and Jews — to build a peace-loving society together and an equitable democracy that will serve all citizens of the country.”

Labor-Gesher leader Amir Peretz said Netanyahu’s criminal investigations are at the heart of the latest political impasse that has seen the country weather two consecutive elections without a decisive winner.

Joint List party leader Ayman Odeh participates along with Residents of the Northern Israeli-Arab town of Akbara in a demonstration against the price tag attack which was carried out in their village yesterday. November 1, 2019. (David Cohen/FLASH90)

“Netanyahu’s indictments are why no government was established in Israel,” Peretz said. “In a democracy we cannot tolerate a prime minister under indictment. The political crisis in Israel is only due to his indictments. If we can prevent Netanyahu from clinging to power, we will be able to prevent a third election in under a year.”

Likud MK Miki Zohar was one of the few Netanyahu supporters to declare his support for the prime minister in the immediate aftermath of the announcement.

“The first emotion I feel: great sadness. I’m sad for the prime minister, what a ‘great’ gift the state gave him for giving his best years for us all,” Zohar said in a statement.

He charged Israel’s top law enforcement officials with a witch hunt. “Everything was known ahead of time. We knew the attorney general wouldn’t be able to withstand the pressure brought to bear on him, we knew that [State Prosecutor] Shai Nitzan would fight tooth and nail, no matter the cost, to ensure serious indictments against the prime minister.”

Likud MK and chairman of the Knesset Regulatory Committee, Miki Zohar, right, leads a debate ahead of the upcoming elections, at the Knesset, September 9, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

He vowed: “We will not be silent. We will not give in.”

Others on the right soon came to Netanyahu’s defense. Israel and its citizens owe Netanyahu “a great deal of gratitude for the decades of sacrifice and devotion” he has given the country, Transportation Minister Betzalel Smotrich of the Jewish Home faction said.

“His enemies, who are now celebrating his downfall and are in denial about his enormous contributions and many accomplishments, should be ashamed. Netanyahu is just the excuse for their effort to topple the right’s rule.” He added: “The right is a majority, and it will emerge from this crisis all the stronger.”

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, whose refusal to join a Netanyahu-led coalition together with the ultra-Orthodox parties set off this year’s repeated elections, stated that Thursday was “a difficult day for the State of Israel.

“We have to allow the justice system to do its work and give the prime minister the opportunity to prove his innocence in court,” he tweeted.

New Right chairman Naftali Bennett is interviewed on Channel 12’s ‘Meet the Press’ on November 2, 2019. (Screen capture/Channel 12)

In a statement, the ultra-Orthodox Shas party said that Netanyahu still enjoyed its support.

“We believe and trust that your innocence will be proven and justice will prevail,” the statement read, adding that the prime minister should be “strong and courageous.”

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the New Right party, called Thursday a “painful night for the people of Israel. Many feel that Prime Minister Netanyahu, a man who has devoted his entire life to Israel, doesn’t deserve what happened tonight. It’s important tonight to recall his great contributions. He’s the prime minister of Israel, and he still enjoys the presumption of innocence. In this turbulent period, we will continue to ensure Israel is safe, united and strong.”

Netanyahu will be charged with fraud and breach of trust in Cases 1000 and 2000, and bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Case 4000, the state prosecution said in a statement Thursday.

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 — the latter being a somewhat murky offense relating to an official violating the trust the public has placed in him. Milchan is not to be charged.

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 charge the premier with fraud and breach of trust, while Mozes will be charged with bribery. The case is said to have been a contentious one in Mandelblit’s office, with many prosecution officials reportedly arguing that Netanyahu should be charged with bribery, while Mandelblit considered not charging the prime minister at all.

In Case 4000, widely seen as 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 Netanyahu with fraud and breach of trust, and both Netanyahu and Elovitch with bribery.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks at a conference in Airport City, outside Tel Aviv, on September 03, 2019 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing, and claims to be the victim of a witch hunt involving the opposition, media, police and state prosecutors, all pressuring a “weak” attorney general.

Netanyahu’s Likud called on party activists to rally outside the prime minister’s Jerusalem residence to express their support for him Thursday night.

Netanyahu was set to give a statement to the media on the decision at 8:30 p.m.

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