In US, Netanyahu indictment seen as cross-Atlantic version of Trump saga

US president’s defenders and detractors, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren and pundit Mark Levin, note parallels between impeachment hearings and Israeli leader’s legal woes

US President Donald Trump, left, welcomes visiting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House in Washington, March 25, 2019. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)
US President Donald Trump, left, welcomes visiting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House in Washington, March 25, 2019. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

WASHINGTON — One is facing impeachment proceedings that could see him removed from office. The other is being charged with bribery and fraud, and fighting for his political life.

As Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced Thursday that he would charge Prime Minister Netanyahu with criminal wrongdoing in three separate corruption cases, supporters and critics of US President Donald Trump across the Atlantic were quick to point at parallels between the two cases, drawing battle lines for and against Netanyahu.

“Netanyahu is accused of accepting bribes, trading government favors, and manipulating a free press,” tweeted Massachusetts Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren, shortly after the charges were announced.

“Like his pal Donald Trump, he’ll stop at nothing to enrich himself and stay in power. This blatant corruption has no place in any democracy — I’ll fight it at home and abroad.”

“No, do NOT step down, Prime Minister Netanyahu,” tweeted right-wing talk radio host Mark Levin. “I’ve carefully reviewed these charges and they’re outrageous. This is an assault on freedom of the press and the investigation was corrupt. And your media is ever worse than ours.”

In a separate tweet, Levin, who has more than 1.8 million followers on Twitter, suggested a parallel illegitimacy between the indictment against Netanyahu and the impeachment inquiry into Trump. “Another free nation destroying itself from within,” he said.

Levin’s comments echoed those of Netanyahu himself, who responded to the announcement of the charges by delivering a televised address in which he accused the police and prosecution of an “attempted coup” and dismissed demands that he step down at least until after his trial.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit holds a press conference at the Ministry of Justice in Jerusalem, announcing his decision that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will stand trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three different corruption cases, dubbed by police Case 1000, Case 2000 and Case 4000. November 21, 2019. (Hadas Parush/FLASH90)

Mandelblit announced earlier in the evening that Netanyahu was being charged with fraud and breach of trust in two cases involving gifts and an alleged quid pro quo with a newspaper owner, and bribery, fraud and breach of trust in so-called Case 4000, in which he is accused of trading regulatory favors worth hundreds of millions of shekels in exchange for positive media coverage.

“Jealous of my Israeli colleagues for having an attorney general who isn’t a totally corrupt political hack,” tweeted Matt Duss, a foreign policy adviser to Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a frequent Netanyahu critic who is also running for the Democratic nomination.

Trump is facing impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives over allegations he used aid money as a lever to pressure Ukrainian officials to investigate the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, seen as the front-runner in the Democratic primary.

Unlike in Israel, where there are no term limits on a prime minister, a US president cannot be charged with a crime while in office, though lawmakers can pass articles of impeachment against him and remove him from office. The bid is seen as a long shot, with Republicans still in control of the Senate, which must vote on removing the president.

This week saw devastating testimony against the president from several members of his administration, including his own hand-picked diplomats.

US Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, told House members Wednesday that Trump directed him to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. “We followed the president’s orders,” he said.

Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the European Union, waits to testify before the House Intelligence Committee in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill November 20, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)

Trump himself did not comment on Netanyahu’s legal woes, despite the two being seen as extremely close allies. That relationship has reportedly cooled in recent months as Netanyahu, who is technically a caretaker prime minister after two deadlocked elections, has struggled to garner enough support to form a new governing coalition.

Observers have noted that both Netanyahu and Trump have used similar tactics to rally their bases while lashing out at what they see as the hostile media and the justice community.

Backing Netanyahu, frequent Trump defender and hawkish pro-Israel advocate Alan Dershowitz questioned the motives of Israel’s justice system.

Alan Dershowitz at NEP Studios in New York, February 3, 2016. (John Lamparski/Getty Images for Hulu, via JTA)

“I think we’re seeing the weaponization of criminal justice for political purposes,” he told the JNS news outlet. “In Israel, the attorney general is supposed to be outside of politics.”

Dershowitz, who appears frequently on CNN, is part of a legal team that submitted a legal brief to Mandelblit arguing it was a “dangerous threat” to a free press if Netanyahu’s seeking favorable media coverage would be considered bribery.

“Look, every politician wants good press, every politician wants to avoid bad press, and many politicians are prepared to cast votes in order to get good press and avoid bad press,” Dershowitz said. “Allowing prosecutors to probe the motives of media and politicians is an extremely dangerous road to go down.”

Despite Netanyahu vowing not to step down, the announcement was seen as welcome news to liberal American Jewish groups who regard the Israeli leader as an obstacle to a two-state solution and peace with the Palestinians.

“Netanyahu indictment confirms what we’ve said all along: he puts his own interests 1st,” tweeted T’Ruah, a progressive rabbinical group. “We look forward to new, ACTUAL leadership that can deliver justice and peace for Israelis and Palestinians.”

AIPAC and J Street did not immediately comment on the indictment, the first time in Israeli history that a sitting head of government has been charged with criminal wrongdoing.

Major Jewish umbrella group Conference of Presidents called the indictment announcement “deeply disturbing” and said that Netanyahu deserved due process.

“The State of Israel faces important decisions in the coming months as the legal process unfolds,” the organization said in a statement. “Israel has proven itself again to be a strong, vibrant democracy and holds even its top officials to account by the most stringent standards. No one is above the law. The Prime Minister like all citizens is entitled to his day in court and to a fair and full process.”

In Washington, Democratic Congressman John Yarmuth, who is Jewish, didn’t mince words.

“Netanyahu indicted in the middle of President Trump’s Impeachment inquiry,” he tweeted. “Bad week for criminal heads of state.”

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