Likud slams ‘hypocrite’ Gantz for criticizing party decision to reelect PM
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Likud slams ‘hypocrite’ Gantz for criticizing party decision to reelect PM

Ruling party points to probe into affairs of now-bankrupt company headed by Blue and White chief after he says Netanyahu working to undermine rule of law

Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz speaks during a faction meeting in Tel Aviv on December 12, 2019. (Flash90)
Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz speaks during a faction meeting in Tel Aviv on December 12, 2019. (Flash90)

The Likud on Friday called Blue and White leader Benny Gantz a “hypocrite” after he condemned the ruling party for reelecting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who faces indictment in three corruption cases.

“Benny Gantz has no real response to the many achievements the prime minister has brought Israel,” the party said in a statement. “How hypocritical that someone who is being investigated for taking 50 million shekels of state money without a tender for his company… can preach about clean hands,” the statement said.

“Luckily for him, he is protected by the media,” Likud said of Gantz, who heads the Blue and White party, Likud’s chief rival.

After Netanyahu’s crushing defeat of challenger Gideon Sa’ar in a Likud leadership race on Thursday, Gantz lamented that “the party of [Zeev] Jabotinsky and [Menachem] Begin, who spoke of the supremacy of the law, has elected a leader with three criminal indictments who seeks to bring down the rule of law and obtain personal immunity instead of dealing with what is important to Israelis.”

Gantz said Blue and White would now seek to present the country with “a mirror image to ‘the Netanyahu party,’ advancing unity, statesmanship and internal reconciliation” as an alternative in the next election, the nation’s third in less than a year.

Last month, Netanyahu was indicted for fraud and breach of trust in three corruption cases, and bribery in one of them, allegations he strongly denies.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a rally in Jerusalem, ahead of the Likud primaries. December 22, 2019. Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Netanyahu won some 72.5 percent of the vote in the Likud primary, with Sa’ar, his only challenger, taking the other 27.5%. Some 57,000 Likud voters, or 49.4% of party members, took part in the primary.

The Likud statement was referring to the fact that state prosecutors are examining  evidence on potential criminal ties  between police and the Fifth Dimension tech firm, which was owned by Gantz and went bankrupt last year.

According to the state’s response in November to a High Court of Justice petition submitted in demanding a criminal investigation, the state comptroller in late October provided the Justice Ministry with materials relating to the allegations, which are currently being studied to determine whether further legal action is necessary.

In March, the State Comptroller’s Office said the Israel Police had negotiated a contract with the cybersecurity company, headed at the time by prime ministerial candidate Gantz, without issuing a tender, in violation of acquisition regulations.

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira also said in the report, which detailed alleged deficiencies in the police’s acquisition process, that Fifth Dimension presented law enforcement with false information about its operations.

The report prompted Likud  to call for a criminal investigation. Gantz’s Blue and White party denied any wrongdoing on his part.

In September, Channel 13 reported that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit ordered a new probe in the case. While Gantz himself is not under suspicion of wrongdoing, the report said, the Attorney General’s Office has requested information from the state comptroller regarding NIS 4 million ($1,134,120) granted to the firm for a pilot project with police, after company executives allegedly provided police with misleading information, as well as a NIS 50 million ($14 million) contract supposedly granted without the issuing of a tender, in violation of acquisition regulations.

The company went bankrupt in December 2018 because the US government sanctioned its largest investor, a Russian oligarch.

Mandelblit reportedly gave the order despite the state comptroller having found no evidence that criminal offenses were committed when he looked into the matter six months earlier.

Gantz, a former military chief of staff, retired from the army in 2015 and got involved in a number of business ventures, including as chairman of Fifth Dimension, which developed artificial intelligence solutions for law enforcement agencies.

Thursday’s leadership contest was the first significant challenge to Netanyahu’s leadership of the Likud in more than a decade, but he maintained the support of the vast majority of the party’s Knesset members and its prominent local leaders and activists, and can thus utilize the result as a boost ahead of Israel’s third general elections in under a year.

He hailed the win as a “huge victory,” as results came in early Friday.

Sa’ar later conceded defeat, and pledged support for Netanyahu and Likud ahead of the March 2 vote. “The contest was vital to the Likud and its democratic character,” he said.

Sa’ar had argued that Netanyahu, having failed twice to form a government after the April and September elections, would lead the right-wing bloc to a third failure, and that he, by contrast, would ensure the right retained power.

A series of polls in recent weeks have indicated a Sa’ar-led Likud would win fewer seats in a third election than under Netanyahu, but the overall right-wing bloc might be larger — potentially enabling it to break the impasse and form a majority government.

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