Blue and White party leaders blasted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday night for claiming justice officials were trying to oust him from power illegally, calling for the Likud chief to step down in the wake of bribery and fraud charges.
“There is no coup in Israel, but rather those that have barricaded themselves in power,” Benny Gantz said in a statement, following a televised address by the premier in which he accused police and state prosecutors of an “attempted coup” against him.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced Thursday that he would be charging Netanyahu with criminal wrongdoing in three separate cases against him, including bribery in the far-reaching Bezeq corruption probe.
Mandelblit’s decision marked the first time in Israel’s history that a serving prime minister faces criminal charges, and Netanyahu insisted that he would remain in power while he fought the charges.
Gantz, however, said that Netanyahu’s speech “clearly demonstrated that he must step down from his position and focus on the charges against him.”
“He is well aware that the grave and complex challenges facing the State of Israel, both in terms of security and in the societal and economic arenas, require a prime minister able to invest his full time, energy and attention,” he charged.
The comments came just over 24 hours after Gantz ended his attempt to form a coalition after edging out Netanyahu in September elections, casting Israel into a fresh round of political chaos ahead of a possible third consecutive vote.
Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid described Netanyahu’s speech as “insanity.”
“If Netanyahu doesn’t resign, this is how it will be from now on. In the morning rockets from Syria, at noon a meeting with his lawyers, in the early evening a crisis in hospital emergency rooms and immediately after an unhinged attack on another witness. One moment a Prime Minister in a suit and the next an angry suspected criminal,” he said in a statement.
In an emotionally charged speech shortly after the indictment was announced, Netanyahu dismissed the cases against him as “tainted,” and demanded a probe be opened into the police and prosecution.
“I deeply respect the justice system in Israel. But you have to be blind not to see that something bad is happening to police investigators and the prosecution. We’re seeing an attempted coup by the police with false accusations,” he said.
He also brushed off calls for him to resign so he can deal with his legal troubles privately.
“I won’t let the lie win. I will continue to lead this country with devotion,” he said.
Netanyahu kept up the campaign on social media into the night, repeatedly tweeting the slogan “investigate the investigators.”
Pushing back against the premier, a justice official speaking on condition of anonymity told the Ynet news site that Netanyahu should save his allegations for the courtroom.
“Its real brave of him to attack those who cannot respond,” the official said, describing Netanyahu’s claims as “nonsense.”
Even before his speech, political rivals and others seized upon the charges to call for Netanyahu to step down.
“Now it’s final: The prime minister cannot serve even one more day,” Democratic Camp lawmaker Tamar Zandberg said. “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.”
Mandelblit on Thursday laid out the charges he intends to file against Netanyahu in three separate cases, once the Knesset removes parliamentary immunity from him.
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.