PM's 'criminal house of cards... is collapsing'

Opposition leader Gabbay: ‘The Netanyahu era is over’

Reacting to news PM confidant will testify against premier in corruption case, Zionist Union head says it’s time for Kahlon, Bennett to quit government, head to new elections

Israel's Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay in Jerusalem, on February 19, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israel's Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay in Jerusalem, on February 19, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The leader of Israel’s main opposition party said Tuesday night it was time for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign and for his coalition partners to quit the government, after a longtime confidant signed a deal to turn state’s witness and was expected to provide police with damning criminal evidence against the premier.

“The Netanyahu era is over,” Zionist Union head Avi Gabbay wrote in a message to party members.

“The criminal house of cards constructed by the prime minister in recent years — the corruption of the public service, the damage to the rule of law, the threat to press freedom, and above all: the division and incitement of factions of Israeli society one against the other — is collapsing upon him and upon his surroundings.”

Gabbay said Netanyahu must resign, and expressed his belief that the prime minister’s coalition partners Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) and Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) would come to realize this in the coming days.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Education Minister Naftali Bennett on November 13, 2017.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The process of healing and mending Israeli society from these evil days will be long, but we will do it,” he said.

Gabbay said he believed elections were near and vowed that if elected, he would form “a government and leadership of values and integrity that acts transparently, does not zigzag and is not beholden to any tycoon. That is our duty to the public.”

Hebrew media reported that Communications Ministry director-general Shlomo Filber is expected to incriminate Netanyahu in Case 4000. Filber has reportedly agreed to testify that he was instructed by the premier to provide regulatory benefits to telephone company Bezeq in exchange for chief Bezeq shareholder Shaul Elovitch giving Netanyahu and his family positive coverage on the Walla news site, which he also owns.

In exchange for his testimony, Filber reportedly demanded that he not receive a prison sentence, a provision police approved.

Shlomo Filber, director general of the Communications Ministry, arrives for extension of his remand in case 4000 at the Magistrate’s Court in Rishon Letzion, February 18, 2018. (Flash90)

Meanwhile, Channel 10 news on Tuesday night brought further details on a separate case involving the prime minister. Dubbed Case 1270, it involves a former spokesperson for the Netanyahu family, Nir Hefetz, allegedly offering in 2015 to appoint a judge as attorney general if she agreed to halt an investigation into the prime minister’s wife Sara.

Strategic adviser Eli Kamir, who is suspected of relaying the bribe offer to judge Hila Gerstel, reportedly told police he conveyed no such proposal.

“I had a meeting with Nir Hefetz to look into the possibility of Gerstel being appointed attorney general. It was my initiative and I didn’t see anything wrong with it,” Kamir told investigators, according to Channel 10.

“I was told that in principle there was a different candidate they supported. There was one bizarre sentence that Hefetz said, that I can’t remember exactly, some saying of his, but I was not sent to deliver any offer. I did not relay to Gerstel any bribe offer.”

Eli Kamir (Kan news screenshot)

According to Maariv journalist Ben Caspit, Hefetz told Kamir: “If you go into a closed room with justice Gerstel and check with her, would she commit to closing the investigation against Sara Netanyahu (over misuse of public funds) in exchange for her appointment as attorney general? What would her response be?”

The now-retired Gerstel was reportedly appalled by the offer and rejected it outright.

Gerstel shared details of the offer with Supreme Court Judge Esther Hayut shortly after receiving it. Gerstel and Hayut, who has since been appointed president of the Supreme Court, are said to be close friends.

Hayut in a statement Tuesday said Gerstel had informed her of the incident in vague detail, saying persons close to the prime minister had inquired on her position regarding Sara Netanyahu if she were chosen as attorney general. Hayut stated that Gerstel had expressed horror over the incident, but had refused to identify the people involved or to provide further details, and that the information was insufficient to justify action on Hayut’s part.

Ombudswoman of the Prosecution, retired Judge Hila Gerstel, attends a Constitution, Law, and Justice, Committee meeting in the Israeli parliament on January 27, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Tuesday night, Netanyahu released a video on his Facebook page in which he firmly denied any wrongdoing in both cases.

“They are bringing two false, lying claims, as part of the witch hunt against me and against my family which has been going on for years,” the prime minister said in the video. “All the decisions regarding Bezeq were made by professional committees, by professionals, under close legal supervision,” he said. “The claim that I acted in favor of Bezeq at the expense of practical considerations is simply baseless.”

Police, he said, “are creating new cases every two hours. They bring associates, interrogate them, every associate is questioned, and immediately there is a flood of misleading leaks.”

As for the Gerstel affair, the premier said “I never asked Nir Hefetz about this, he never spoke to me about it, and you know what? I cannot believe he raised this possibility with anyone,” Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu is not currently suspected of dispatching Hefetz to extend the offer to the judge, Hadashot TV reported.

Both Hefetz and Filber have been in custody since Sunday.

Last week, police recommended that Netanyahu be indicted for fraud, breach of trust, and bribery in two other cases.

Former prime minister’s spokesman Nir Hefetz at the Herzliya Magistrate’s Court for a libel suit against him and other associates of the prime minister on December 26, 2017. (Flash90)

In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife are alleged to have received illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, totaling NIS 1 million ($282,000). In return, Netanyahu is alleged by police to have intervened on Milchan’s behalf in matters relating to legislation, business dealings, and visa arrangements.

Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid-pro-quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister weaken a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

The prime minister has also been linked indirectly to Case 3000, a large investigation into suspected corruption surrounding a multi-billion-shekel purchase of naval vessels and submarines from a German shipbuilder. While Netanyahu has not been named as a suspect, close associates of his, including two personal aides, have been arrested or questioned.

Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing in all the cases.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

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