Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said Saturday that he does “not feel comfortable” with the allegations of corruption against the prime minister, and hinted that he would not rule out joining a coalition headed by Benny Gantz.
“From an ethical-moral point of view, one does not feel comfortable with the fact that this is what your prime minister is suspected of, but this is part of our life,” Kahlon, whose Kulanu party may play kingmaker following the upcoming elections, told Channel 12 news.
When asked whether he would be willing to join a government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Kahlon said that he would like to get through the elections before making a decision.
When asked the same about Gantz’s Blue and White party, however, the finance minister said that “at the moment, the alternative government is the one rejecting us.”
The finance minister added that he was not surprised by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s decision on Thursday to indict Netanyahu for criminal wrongdoing in three separate cases against the prime minister, including bribery in the far-reaching Bezeq corruption probe, pending a hearing.
Kahlon elaborated on the section in Mandelblit’s written decision on Case 4000, widely seen as the most serious against the premier, in which 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 Elovitch’s Walla news site.
Mandelblit noted in the document that Elovitch had referred to Kahlon as “the Arab” during private conversations.
“He called me an Arab. You understand why. This is racism for its own sake because of my Mizrahi background, not because I am not educated or not a good minister,” the finance minister said.
“But I will also use this occasion to say to someone who called me an Arab that I am very proud of my parents and my origins, and I also suggest that everyone be proud of their background, and that you invite all these racists [for an interview instead],” Kahlon told Channel 12.
The finance minister stated that he was astounded that there was a “complete system… all kinds of groups that operated openly” against him in the media, a presumed reference to the allegation that Netanyahu secured not only positive coverage for himself from Walla, but also negative coverage for political rivals such as Kahlon.
Though the decision is not final, Mandelblit’s call to charge Netanyahu marks the first time in Israel’s history that a serving prime minister has been told he faces criminal charges, and casts a heavy shadow over his re-election campaign.
Netanyahu will have an opportunity to overturn the decision in a hearing expected to take place in the months following the April 9 vote. The process could take up to a year.
The prime minister has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and claims the investigations are part of efforts by the media and Israeli left to remove him from power, with the support of a dishonest police investigating team, overseen by a “weak” attorney general.
In Case 4000, widely seen as the most serious against the premier, Netanyahu is accused of having advanced regulatory decisions that benefited 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 both Netanyahu and Elovitch with bribery.
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.
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 also charge the premier with breach of trust, while Mozes will be charged with bribery.
Recent polls indicate that Kahlon’s Kulanu party is currently teetering on the brink of the election threshold, and may not make it into the next Knesset. If, however, Kulanu does enter the Knesset, it could potentially become the party which determines whether Netanyahu’s Likud or Gantz’s Blue and White lead the next government.