Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid on Saturday stated that he will not join a Netanyahu-led government if the attorney general announces an intention to indict the prime minister, even before the hearing process has been completed.
“I will not sit in a government headed by Netanyahu if the attorney general decides to indict him,” Lapid told Hadashot news.
When asked to clarify whether he would decline to join Netanyahu even before a hearing takes place, Lapid responded: “That is correct.”
“I never doubted that Netanyahu is an Israeli patriot,” Lapid said. “But if he loves the country as much as he says he loves the country, he should resign if he is indicted.”
Lapid, and Israel Resilience party head Benny Gantz, have faced repeated calls from Labor leader Avi Gabbay not to join a Netanyahu-led government if he wins April’s upcoming elections.
Speaking to Channel 10 news Saturday night, Moshe Kahlon of the Kulanu party, currently a senior partner in Netanyahu’s coalition, said he would not sit in a government led by Netanyahu if charges are filed after a hearing with the attorney general.
Netanyahu has vowed not to step down if Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announces that he intends to indict him, pending a hearing, in any of the cases against him, asserting that the law does not require him to do so. Judicial officials have anonymously said that this is true, but that Netanyahu would have a “problem” if he sought to stay in office were a formal, final indictment subsequently filed at the completion of the hearing process.
Mandelblit, speaking to Israel’s Channel 10 news on the sidelines of a legal conference earlier this month, said there would “clearly” be no requirement for Netanyahu to step down while a hearing process was in process, but made no comment as whether he would make his decision on a possible indictment in the course of the election campaign.
Hadashot TV’s legal reporter said earlier this month that Mandelblit clearly “intends to press charges” against Netanyahu, noting that the attorney general recently consulted with former judges and legal veterans over the possible timing of such an announcement. During a meeting with these notables at a hotel outside of Jerusalem, Mandelblit reportedly said, “Announcing a [hearing] decision before elections is our duty to the public that is going to the polls. I will do my utmost to finish the work as soon as possible.”
Media reports have indicated that Mandelblit seeks to announce his decision on a possible indictment, pending a hearing, in February. Netanyahu has begun to claim that it would be unfair to make the announcement before Israelis cast their ballot in the April 9 general election.
Indeed, it would be akin to “stealing the elections,” he has warned repeatedly. In a video posted to his social media accounts last weekend, he compared himself to a man whose arm was cut off because he was found guilty of theft in the first instance but later acquitted on appeal. “Can someone give him back his hand? Can someone give you back the elections?” Netanyahu asked, addressing the Israeli electorate.
Prior to that statement, Hadashot quoted unnamed legal sources hitting back at Netanyahu’s complaints that a hearing process could not be finished before the elections, and that therefore the attorney general should not start it before the elections.
It was Netanyahu who chose to call early elections, the sources were quoted as saying, so it was hardly reasonable for the prime minister to now complain that there was insufficient time to finish dealing with the case before Israelis go to the polls.
Hadashot speculated that, should he win the elections, as he is expected to do, Netanyahu would seek to pass “the French law” — a reference to potential legislation that would provide immunity for a serving prime minister from prosecution.
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.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu is suspected of receiving benefits and gifts worth about NIS 1 million ($282,000) from billionaire benefactors, including Israeli Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, in exchange for assistance on various issues. Some reports have suggested that Mandelblit is leaning toward a charge of breach of trust in this case.
Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister hobble rival daily Israel Hayom in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth. Some reports have suggested that Mandelblit may close the case; Channel 10, by contrast, asserted Friday that state prosecutors are leaning toward a bribery charge.
In Case 4000, reportedly the most serious of the three, Netanyahu is suspected of having advanced regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister from 2015 to 2017 that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq, the country’s largest telecommunications firm, in exchange for positive coverage from Elovitch’s Walla news site.
State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan is reported to have completed his work on the three cases concerning the prime minister and to have recommended indicting Netanyahu in all of them.
Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing, and has claimed the investigations are part of a political vendetta and witch-hunt, aimed to oust him, involving the political left, the media and the police.
In a live statement on prime time television Monday evening, Netanyahu demanded that police allow him to confront his former aides and colleagues who have reportedly provided incriminating evidence in the three graft cases in which he is a suspect.
Legal officials, pundits and opposition leaders have dismissed his demand, saying that a confrontation between a suspect and witnesses during a police probe is an investigation tool that can — but doesn’t have to — be used by police, and isn’t a right to be demanded by the suspect. Suspects can confront the witnesses against them in court during cross-examination.