Claiming ‘powerful’ public support, PM vows to lead Israel for years to come
Netanyahu says public backing of him on the rise, despite legal woes; denies reports he wants to quit or call new elections
Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday said he wants to continue to lead Israel for years to come, rebuffing reports claiming he plans to quit political life in the near future or seek snap elections.
He also said that despite his growing legal troubles, public support for him has reached unprecedented heights in recent weeks.
“I don’t intend to go to new elections. I intend to continue this term until its conclusion and lead the Likud to a great victory in the 2019 elections,” he said.
Netanyahu said support for him and his wife Sara is “very powerful,” both within his own party and the general population. “The only way you can see this is when you come with me. I don’t mean to the large [political] rallies. Walk with me on the streets, or to the cafes,” he said, indicating that the ordinary Israelis he encounters by chance enthusiastically back him.
“I don’t remember anything like that ever,” he told reporters during a briefing following his meeting with Argentine President Mauricio Macri. “I don’t remember such personal support for me and my wife. It’s incredibly powerful, I simply have no other way to describe it.”
The next elections are scheduled for November 5, 2019, but unnamed Likud sources “close to Netanyahu” claimed on Tuesday that Netanyahu plans on announcing the end of his political career.
The prime minister is currently the subject of two separate corruption investigations, known as Cases 1000 and 2000.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu is 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 newspaper publisher Arnon “Noni” Mozes that would have seen the prime minister advance legislation to hobble a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.
Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing in both cases, and has addressed two large rallies organized to express support for him.
In addition, a growing number of close former associates of the prime minister have recently been quizzed over their involvement in yet another investigation, the so-called Case 3000, which is examining Israel’s multi-billion-shekel purchase of naval vessels from Germany.
Netanyahu is not a suspect in the case, but the fact that these vessels were acquired under his watch, and that many people close to him are involved, has prompted some of his critics to call on the prime minister to quit over the affair.
In addition to his own legal troubles, his wife faces an indictment for fraud for allegedly diverting some NIS 360,000 ($102,000) of shekels in public funds for her own use.
Asked by reporters Tuesday if the unprecedented support he cited would present opportune timing to call new elections, with victory ostensibly granting him legitimacy to continue leading the country in case of an indictment, Netanyahu replied: “I learned one thing in my short time in Israeli politics: Don’t give up on two years so easily.”