PM once again alleges leftist conspiracy to depose him

In ‘dramatic statement,’ PM demands he be allowed to face his accusers

Netanyahu says confrontation should be televised live, accuses law enforcement of refusing to question witnesses that could exonerate him

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivering a statement live at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, on January 7, 2019. (frame grab off video, releaed by the Likud/AFP)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivering a statement live at the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, on January 7, 2019. (frame grab off video, releaed by the Likud/AFP)

In a live statement to the press on prime time Monday evening, advertised ahead of time as “special” and “dramatic,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded that police allow him to face the state’s witnesses who have testified against him in the three corruption cases in which he is a suspect.

He also repeated his claim, without evidence, that the probes were part of a left-wing conspiracy to depose him, and claimed his legal troubles would all go away if he would only capitulate to leftist demands — which he vowed never to do.

Netanyahu said he wished to reveal information to the public that he believed proved his treatment by law enforcement authorities was unfair and biased: his request, twice denied by officials, to hold a confrontation with witnesses who had testified against him.

“During the investigations against me, I demanded a confrontation with the state’s witnesses [in the cases],” he said from a podium at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem. “I wanted to look them in the eye and throw the truth at them. I demanded it once and was refused. I demanded it a second time and was refused. Why was I refused this confrontation, which is so necessary for uncovering the truth? What are they afraid of? What have they got to hide?”

He claimed that in addition to him not being allowed to face state’s witnesses who have testified against him, police have ignored other possible witnesses whose testimony could have been in his favor. For instance, the head of the anti-trust authority, David Eilat, who backed a regulatory decision supported by Netanyahu and considered suspicious by police, was not questioned, he said.

Netanyahu, in an apparent bid to quell accusations that he is increasingly undermining Israel’s justice system in his attacks on the investigations’ legitimacy, stressed that “the justice system is one of the foundations of Israeli democracy.” He said that “there can be criticism of the justice system in a democracy,” but that the system should ultimately be trusted.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends a Knesset State Control Committee meeting on December 3, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

However, he seemed to undercut that statement with his insinuations that the same system was hiding information. He also reiterated his claim that “the left” was behind a coordinated effort to depose him through illegitimate means, employing “ceaseless pressure on the attorney general, ceaseless pressure to indict me.”

“I could have stopped this terrible hunt against me and my family, if I had only offered a new disengagement: to retreat to the 1967 lines, to split Jerusalem and forsake Israel’s security,” he claimed. “But I would never do such a thing.”

There has been no evidence to suggest that the work of police investigators, prosecutors, and the attorney general has in any way been influenced by politics.

Netanyahu suggested that a confrontation between himself and witnesses be held on live television so that “the public can see everything, hear everything, and know the entire truth.”

He vowed to dispute any claims of illegal activity on his part, “because I know the truth and am sure of the truth, 4,000 percent.” (The 4000 figure was a reference to Case 4000, one of the three probes against him, and reportedly the most serious.)

Netanyahu ridiculed the central accusation in two of the three cases — that he took illegal action to secure positive coverage in the media.

“I, the most slandered public figure in the history of the nation, got sympathetic media [coverage]? What an absurdity,” he said.

The statement had been advertised by Netanyahu’s Likud party ahead of time as “special” and “dramatic,” though the prime minister was lambasted by critics afterward for using the media for propaganda purposes.

In an official response, the Justice Ministry said the investigation had been conducted “professionally and thoroughly” by all involved, “according to professional considerations…and while striving for the truth alone.”

State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan attends an Interior Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on November 21, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

It said it would not comment further on the specifics of an ongoing case. “The review of the investigation’s results is now being conducted by the attorney general, the state prosecutor, and their staff in an orderly, professional manner which…should not be conducted through the media.”

A police source close to the investigation who spoke with Hadashot TV news rejected Netanyahu’s assertion that a confrontation between himself and witnesses was necessary to ascertain the truth.

The source said any questions and issues raised by witnesses had been brought before the premier as part of his questioning sessions to receive his response. “Any potential confrontation would not have advanced the investigation or brought any of the sides to change their version of events,” the unnamed source said.

Netanyahu is suspected of bribery in three cases, one of which involves gifts from wealthy associates, with the other two involving potential quid-pro-quo deals for regulatory favors in exchange for positive media coverage.

Nir Hefetz appears in a Tel Aviv court on February 22, 2018. (AFP Photo/ Jack Guez)

The state’s witnesses in the Netanyahu probes include Nir Hefetz, a former media adviser to the Netanyahu family; Shlomo Filber, the former Communications Ministry director general; and his former chief of staff, Ari Harow.

Netanyahu has long accused police, the media, and the political left of pushing a conspiracy against him.

Netanyahu has been vocal in recent days in his opposition to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s reported intention of announcing his decision on a possible draft indictment prior to the April 9 general election.

Media reports have indicated that Mandelblit seeks to announce his decision on a possible indictment in February.

Police have recommended that Netanyahu be indicted for bribery in all three of the probes. Mandelblit is the final authority on whether state prosecutors will ultimately press charges against a sitting prime minister.

Netanyahu has dismissed the allegations as a witch hunt and has pushed for Mandelblit to hold back on releasing a decision to indict until after the election, citing the fact that a hearing process on the matter in which he would give his side of the story cannot be completed before the election.

Police detectives arrive at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office in Jerusalem on January 27, 2017 to question him for the third time, in two corruption investigations. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Hebrew media reported last Tuesday that during an annual meeting last week of senior legal figures, including former Supreme Court justices and former attorney generals, Mandelblit said he felt it was “his duty” to announce before the elections whether he intended to indict the prime minister subject to a hearing.

The prime minister’s legal team responded to the reports by saying such a decision would be a “blow to the democratic process” because the hearing would not be completed by the time elections are held, casting an unfair cloud over Netanyahu.

Only after the hearing would Mandelblit make a final decision on whether to indict Netanyahu, who has vowed not to step down even if the attorney-general announces he intends to indict him and calls him for a hearing. Legal officials are reported to share Netanyahu’s assertion that he need not step down during the hearing process, but that he would have a “problem” were he to seek to remain in office after an indictment is filed.

In some of his most combative comments to date on the corruption probes against him, Netanyahu lashed out Thursday at “the left” and at “the media,” claiming they were coordinating a “thuggish” campaign to pressure Mandelblit to announce an indictment against him in the near future, in order to “steal” the elections.

Netanyahu then posted a video on Facebook on Saturday night that said the idea of him facing a hearing in the graft cases ahead of the April elections was akin to a court “in a certain Middle Eastern country” cutting off a thief’s hand — before the thief wins an appeal against his conviction.

Coalition chairman David Amsalem attends a Likud party event in Tel Aviv, marking the Jewish new year on September 6, 2018. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Several ministers have also made controversial statements against law enforcement officials.

Netanyahu’s coalition chief David Amsalem wrote in a tweet two weeks ago that the prime minister was plainly being framed and that if he was indicted “millions of people won’t accept this.”

Culture Minister Miri Regev on Sunday said Mandelblit’s reported plan to decide whether to indict the prime minister next month appeared to indicate the country’s top lawyer was “trying to join the chorus that aims to topple Netanyahu.”

Such statements by the prime minister and his allies have been roundly criticized by current and former top legal officials as a dangerous attempt to erode public trust in the system.

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