'Manipulating free press, accepting bribes, trading favors'

Elizabeth Warren castigates Netanyahu following indictment announcement

Democratic presidential hopeful writes on Twitter that corruption allegations are a ‘cut to the heart of a functioning democracy’

Senate Armed Services Committee member, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., pauses during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on "Nuclear Policy and Posture" on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Senate Armed Services Committee member, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., pauses during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on "Nuclear Policy and Posture" on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

US senator and 2020 presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren weighed in on the indictment announcement against Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, calling the prime minister’s alleged corruption a “cut to the heart of a functioning democracy.”

Warren castigated Netanyahu on Twitter for allegedly accepting bribes, manipulating the press, trading government favors and for his embrace of right-wing extremism, apparently referring to his support of a merger between the religious-Zionist Jewish Home and the Kahanists of Otzma Yehudit.

“Corruption — in Israel, in the US, or anywhere else — is a cancer that threatens democracy. We need to fight back. And we can start by having the courage to call it out wherever it occurs. Even among our allies,” Warren wrote.

She followed with a link to a post describing her foreign policy goals of opposing the spread of authoritarianism and “right-wing demagogues.”

Warren, a democrat from Massachusetts, has criticized Israel’s policies toward Gaza in the past, along with other Democratic senators and 2020 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. She voted in favor of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and skipped Netanyahu’s controversial March 2015 speech to Congress opposing the agreement.

She has spoken in favor of funding for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system and joined a 2014 congressional delegation to Israel.

She has also taken a stand against anti-Semitism in the US, attending shabbat services following the October 27, 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting, which killed 11, and condemning the vandalization of a Boston Holocaust memorial in 2017.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Thursday evening informed Netanyahu that he was pressing charges in three separate cases against him, subject to a hearing. Mandelblit decided that Netanyahu would be charged with criminal wrongdoing, including bribery in the far-reaching Bezeq corruption probe, pending the hearing. The decision marks the first time in Israel’s history that a serving prime minister has been told he faces criminal charges.

Media outlets in the US and other countries gave the announcement prominent coverage.

In Case 1000, involving suspicions that Netanyahu received gifts and benefits from billionaire benefactors in exchange for favors, Mandelblit said he planned to charge Netanyahu with fraud and breach of trust — the latter a somewhat murkily defined lesser offense relating to an official violating the trust the public has placed in him.

In Case 2000, involving suspicions Netanyahu agreed with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes to weaken a rival daily in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth, Mandelblit said he planned 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 believing Netanyahu should be charged with bribery, while Mandelblit considered not charging the prime minister at all.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the media in the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, February 28, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In Case 4000, widely seen as the most serious against the premier, he is suspected of having advanced regulatory decisions that benefited Bezeq-controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch in exchange for positive coverage from the Elovitch-owned Walla news site. In the most serious accusation, Mandelblit said he planned to charge Netanyahu with fraud, breach of trust and bribery. Elovitch will also face bribery charges.

With the announcement of an intention to indict him, Netanyahu has now been notified that he can request a hearing to contest the intended charges. The hearing process could take up to a year, during which time Netanyahu is not legally obliged to step down. It is not clear if Netanyahu could continue to serve after being formally charged with criminal offenses.

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. On Thursday night, he also alleged bias against him on the part of two of the senior state prosecutors — an allegation swiftly rejected and denounced by the Justice Ministry.

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