Likud activists said sharing names of prosecutors on WhatsApp

Report quotes party officials saying Netanyahu intends to fight back hard on graft charges against him, place issue at center of expected 2020 elections

Supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demonstrate outside his residence following the announcement by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit that he will charge the premier in three graft cases, November 21, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demonstrate outside his residence following the announcement by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit that he will charge the premier in three graft cases, November 21, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Activists from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party are reportedly sharing on social media the names of officials in the State Prosecutor’s Office as part of efforts to delegitimize the legal establishment and discredit graft charges against the premier.

Top Likud activists were also being asked on social media pages and WhatsApp messaging groups identified with the party to publicly defend Netanyahu and issue statements supporting him, the Ynet news site reported Friday.

The report said Likud members were sharing the names of prosecution officials allegedly related to Israeli judges in a bid to show that the legal establishment was corrupt and worked to “manufacture” the charges against him.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced Thursday he would indict Netanyahu in three separate corruption cases, marking the first time a serving prime minister in Israel faces criminal charges.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit holds a press conference at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem  announcing his decision to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, November 21, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Netanyahu accused investigators of an “attempted coup” and brushed off calls for him to step aside to deal with his legal woes.

Citing Likud officials, Ynet said Netanyahu intends to “wage war” against the indictment and seeks to delegitimize the judicial system.

It also quoted political sources saying Netanyahu was planning to place the charges at the center of his campaign for the expected elections in March.

Those elections, which would be the third in under a year, appeared all but inevitable following Mandelblit’s announcement and the transfer of the mandate to form a government to the Knesset on Thursday, after both Netanyahu and his political rival Benny Gantz failed to cobble together a coalition.

According to the full indictment released by the Justice Ministry Thursday, Netanyahu will be charged with fraud and breach of trust in the three cases, as well as bribery in one of them.

The indictment announcement comes as Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, fights for his political survival after failing to secure a majority in the Knesset together with his political allies in back-to-back elections.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a meeting of right-wing parties at the Knesset, November 20, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

In a fiery speech Thursday, Netanyahu said the investigations against him were “tainted” and repeated claims they were part of an effort by the left, media, prosecutors and police to push a right-wing prime minister from office.

“This is selective enforcement on steroids,” he said, declaring it was “time to investigate the investigators.”

While his political rivals, among them Gantz, called for Netanyahu to step aside, the Likud leader has received the backing of many members of the party and his religious allies.

Some Likud officials, however, criticized Netanyahu, though none would speak on the record.

“We need to understand that the Netanyahu era is over and work toward change,” one senior Likud official told Channel 12, calling for Netanyahu’s ouster as party leader.

Senior Likud party lawmaker MK Gideon Sa’ar speaks during the conference of the Israeli Television News Company in Tel Aviv on September 5, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

If new elections are held, Netanyahu appears set to face a leadership challenge for the first time since 2014, in the form of senior Likud lawmaker Gideon Sa’ar who announced a bid to challenge to Netanyahu earlier this week.

Hebrew media on Thursday night said another unnamed Likud lawmaker was planning to throw their hat in the ring if the party goes to primaries.

Mandelblit’s announcement did not include the official filing of an indictment, as the Knesset must first decide on lifting Netanyahu’s procedural immunity, a process that — due to the current political gridlock and the lack of a functioning government — could drag on for months.

In a rare address to the media announcing his decision, Mandelblit called it “a difficult and sad day” and said his ruling was made “with a heavy heart but also with a whole heart.”

He called accusations by Netanyahu’s supporters that prosecutors were conducting a witch hunt “dangerous” and said they were “playing with fire.”

Israeli law only requires that a prime minister step down if convicted, but experts have suggested that Netanyahu could have a “problem” if he seeks to stay in office after the formal indictment is filed. Under law and High Court of Justice precedent, ministers other than the prime minister are required to step down in such a situation. There is no clear legal rule regarding the prime minister.

However, Hebrew media reported Thursday that Mandelblit may soon be required to rule on whether Netanyahu, as a person under indictment, was at all eligible to form a new government.

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