Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid on Thursday fired back at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of his Likud party who claimed that he was conducting a subversive campaign to bring down the government via police investigations, but also denied reports that he was a key witness in the probe.
“Don’t threaten me, I won’t let our state reach a point where honest, decent people are afraid of telling the truth when police summon them to give testimony,” he said in an interview with Hadashot news, in comments directed at critics from the ruling party.
Police recommended Tuesday that Netanyahu be indicted for a series of corruption charges including bribery, fraud, and breach of trust.
Lapid — a former finance minister under Netanyahu and now his political rival — provided police with evidence that the prime minister had tried to push legislation to extend the period for which new immigrants and returning Israelis are exempt from declaring and paying tax on income earned overseas, a move which could have saved billionaire Hollywood movie producer Arnon Milchan millions of dollars.
He has since become the focus of Likud responses, accusing him of turning to police after failing to beat Netanyahu in elections.
Coalition chairman David Amsalem called the Yesh Atid leader a “loser” for having been sacked as finance minister by Netanyahu and — in the words of Amsalem — a “snitch.”
Lapid responded that he was “not the key witness in the case. There is a whole series of investigations, in one of them I was asked to come and testify. A central witness is someone who brought them the story. I didn’t bring them the story. I was asked about my part in it and I told the truth.”
Lapid said he “didn’t even remember the incident” until they asked him about it.
“I blocked the law because I work for the citizens of Israel, not tycoons or politicians. And it wasn’t good for the citizens of Israel,” he added.
Police believe that Netanyahu tried to get the law changed as a quid pro quo for hundreds of thousands of shekels worth of cigars, champagne and jewelry with which Milchan allegedly plied the prime minister and his wife Sara over many years.
Lapid also commented on claims that he had met with Milchan as finance minister while also having a personal relationship with him, saying they had resolved issues of conflict of interest.
“I worked for Milchan 22 years ago, and still we went to the Justice Ministry, everything was in order,” Lapid contended. “Part of a finance minister’s job is to tell people ‘no.'”
Lapid called for Netanyahu’s resignation as prime minister following the police recommendations against him.
Citing the fallout of clashes on the Syrian border last weekend, Lapid said “during such a week, [Netanyahu] focused on his own survival, published posts on Facebook and held discussions with his lawyers.
“[He] can’t be prime minister because he needs to work 24/7 for the citizens of Israel and Netanyahu can’t do that. We deserve … a government that only deals with what is good for citizens of the State of Israel.”
The Likud party issued a fiery response to Lapid’s interview, continuing the recent exchange of fire between the political rivals,
“While Prime Minister Netanyahu is on his way to the most important security conference in the world, where he is treated with the respect and admiration of a world leader, key witness Lapid hurries to the studio and continues to hide behind worthless spins instead of answering a simple question: How dare he lecture the prime minister when Lapid as finance minister held a work meeting with his close friend and former employer Arnon Milchan?
“Lapid’s babbling about national security only proves his ignorance,” the statement continued, claiming that he “will continue looking for any way to reach the leadership except the voting booth, since he knows he’ll lose that.”