Former Likud lawmaker and cabinet minister Benny Begin, son of the party’s iconic founder, Menachem Begin, called on Tuesday for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign over impending corruption charges.
“We can’t have a situation where a prime minister serves while this kind of indictment is weighing on his shoulders,” Begin told Army Radio.
Nearly alone among current and former Likud leaders, Begin has issued scathing condemnations of Netanyahu’s conduct over the past year, including accusing him in March of “attempting to assassinate the public’s trust in law enforcement institutions.”
Netanyahu is set to be indicted for fraud and breach of trust in three cases, and for bribery in one of them, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit formally informed the Knesset speaker last month. Netanyahu has repeatedly accused law enforcement authorities, including his own appointee Mandelblit, of inventing false charges against him in a broad conspiracy with the left and the media to topple him.
Netanyahu is not required to resign over the looming indictments, after the High Court of Justice threw out petitions demanding his resignation earlier this month and Mandelblit refused to issue a legal opinion requiring him to do so.
But the dry legal question was beside the point, Begin said in his Tuesday interview, and Netanyahu should resign on ethical grounds.
“We’ll have a debate on the question of whether the law has something to say about this interim period, but in any case, that’s not the only question we should ask. There’s a public, social and educational aspect to this. Add to that Mr. Netanyahu’s reaction to the triple indictment against him, hurling false accusations at law enforcement, saying we’re witnessing an ‘attempted coup,’ and that the process was meant to topple a sitting prime minister from the right. These are libels, and his representatives are echoing these lies,” Begin said.
“The heads of the ruling party are trying to turn the tables on our law enforcement institutions in order to prevent them from doing their jobs,” he charged.
Begin, who served 18 combined years as a Likud MK in five Knessets and was long considered a close confidant and ally of Netanyahu, announced this year he would not vote for the party his father founded over his concerns about Netanyahu’s ethics and the party’s rightist policies.
He declined to run in the April election, saying in March that the previous four years in the Knesset had been difficult for him, as his party colleagues “made great efforts to make it hard for me to agree and identify with many bills, offensive proposals over which I frequently found myself to be an opposition within my party.”
Asked on Tuesday if he still considered himself a member of the party, he said, “I think so, but it’s hard for me. When a member says he won’t vote for the party in an election, then it’s clear there’s a difficulty here.”
He blamed Netanyahu for the unprecedented repeat elections of the past year and 2020.
“We’re trapped in this whirlpool for almost a year now. Benjamin Netanyahu, as prime minister, initiated the early elections [in September after failing to form a coalition following the April vote]. I think he behaved wrongly after failing to form a government. There’s no riddle or mystery on this point.”
Netanyahu is to be indicted in three corruption cases, pending a possible appeal to the Knesset to grant him parliamentary immunity from prosecution. If he asks for immunity, the Knesset’s decision is expected sometime in the summer.
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 is charging 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 is charging the premier with fraud and breach of trust, while Mozes has been charged with bribery.
In Case 4000, widely seen as the most serious, Netanyahu is accused of having advanced regulatory decisions that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in the Bezeq telecom giant, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, in exchange for positive coverage from the Elovitch-owned Walla news site.
In that case, Mandelblit has charged both Netanyahu and Elovitch with bribery.
Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing.