The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they unfolded.
President Reuven Rivlin hands Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein the formal notice that Benny Gantz’s mandate to form a government is over, after the Blue and White party leader yesterday conceded failing to do so.
For the first time in Israel’s history, the mandate to form a governing coalition is now in the hands of the Knesset. If 61 lawmakers sign their support for a fellow MK to form a government over the next 21 days, that person will be tasked with doing so. If not, the country goes to the polls once again.
“This sad political outcome came after a second election cycle that was forced upon Israeli citizens when the 21st Knesset voted to dissolve itself,” Rivlin tells Edelstein. “This is a time of unprecedented darkness in the history of the State of Israel.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is planning to visit the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz for the first time in her 14 years in office.
The Munich daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung reports that Merkel has accepted an invitation to attend the 10th anniversary of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation on December 6.
Merkel’s office confirms that a visit is planned but declines to specify the date as her appointments are generally announced only a week in advance.
Last month, the World Jewish Congress gave Merkel its Theodor Herzl Award for her efforts to foster Jewish life in Germany and her support for the state of Israel.
Nazi Germany killed more than 1 million people at Auschwitz-Birkenau in occupied Poland during World War II, most of them Jews transported there from across Europe.
Urging MKs to show “statesmanship” by working together to prevent third elections, President Reuven Rivlin says each lawmaker must ask himself or herself, “What is my obligation toward the State of Israel and its citizens?”
Accepting the announcement as the representative of the Knesset, which now holds the keys to the premiership, parliament speaker Yuli Edelstein says he will do “all I can to help the formation of a wide coalition that will serve the people of Israel.”
Saying that despite the challenges, he believes a solution is possible, Edelstein quotes former prime minister Menachem Begin who famously said that “elections can be prevented, unity can’t.”
— Raoul Wootliff
A British-Iranian anthropologist held in Iran for three months has been released on bail, his wife tells state news agency IRNA.
“Kameel Ahmady was released on Sunday evening on a 500 million (toman, $42,000) bail after three months of temporary detention,” IRNA quotes Shafagh Rahmani as saying.
Iran confirmed Ahmady’s arrest in October, less than three months after the detention of Franco-Iranian academic Fariba Adelkhah was publicized.
Senior Likud sources are quoted by Hebrew-language media as criticizing MK Gideon Sa’ar for calling for leadership primaries within the ruling party and saying he would run against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Sa’ar could lead Likud to difficult and unnecessary infighting at a time when no other party in the political system will hold primaries for its leadership or electoral slate,” a source reportedly says.
“Sa’ar’s unnecessary insistence on running for Likud leadership could lead to political chaos. It should also be said that his chances of success are very small.”
The UN nuclear watchdog urges Iran to explain the presence of uranium particles at an undeclared site, as a landmark deal aimed at curbing Tehran’s atomic activities threatens to collapse.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has said in a report that its inspectors “detected natural uranium particles of anthropogenic origin at a location in Iran not declared to the agency.”
The agency’s acting head Cornel Feruta says IAEA and Iranian officials will meet in Tehran next week to discuss the matter, adding that the UN body has not received any additional information.
“The matter remains unresolved… It is essential that Iran works with the agency to resolve this matter promptly,” he says at a meeting of the agency’s board of governors.
A diplomatic source tells AFP that the IAEA will send a high-ranking technical delegation to Iran next week.
The particles are understood to be the product of uranium which has been mined and undergone initial processing, but not enriched.
While the IAEA has not named the site in question, diplomatic sources have previously said the agency asked Iran about a site in the Turquzabad district of Tehran where Israel has alleged secret atomic activity in the past.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas welcomes former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg to the PA presidential headquarters in Ramallah.
Burg quotes Abbas as saying Israelis and Palestinians must ultimately live in peace.
“He said there is no other way except for both peoples to live together in coexistence and peace,” Burg says in a phone call. “He said regardless of the Israeli political roller-coaster, the Palestinians will never lose hope.”
— Adam Rasgon
New Right MK Ayelet Shaked, who was the only woman to lead a political party in the September elections, says: “I want to be prime minister one day, in the future.”
The popular Shaked, who would reportedly have liked to join the Likud party but is disliked by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara, makes the comment at the Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference.
“After the Netanyahu era, I don’t rule out a run for prime minister,” the former justice minister says. “But you can never guess what will happen in Israeli politics.”
The family members of Avera Mengistu, an Israeli civilian who has been missing since crossing into the Gaza Strip of his own volition several years ago, are meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.
The meeting comes after the Mengistu family was angry at the premier earlier this week for meeting only with the parents of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, IDF soldiers killed in the 2014 Gaza war and whose bodies are believed to be held by the Hamas terror group, and postponing the meeting with the Mengistus at the last moment.
Amid rumors of a possible prisoner swap deal, Netanyahu reportedly promised the Goldin and Shaul families no more bodies of terrorists would be returned to Gaza without their loved ones’ bodies being released.
בלשכת רה'מ בירושלים נמשכת הפגישה בין רה'מ נתניהו למשפחת אברה מנגיסטו
(וזאת לאחר שבתחילת השבוע נדחתה הפגישה ברגע האחרון)
בתחילת השבוע נועד נתניהו עם בני משפחות הדר גולדין ואורון שאול
וחזר על התחייבותו שלא להעביר גופות נוספות של מחבלים לעזה ללא החזרת הדר ואורון.
— שמעון ארן شمعون آران (@simonarann) November 21, 2019
Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency says a soldier who shot and killed a protester in Beirut last week has been charged by a military prosecutor with murder.
The agency says that a colonel who was on the scene with the soldier at the time of the shooting has also been charged.
On November 12, Alaa Abu Fakhr was shot dead by the soldier, who was trying to open a road closed by protesters in southern Beirut, marking the first death since widespread protests against Lebanon’s ruling elite began October 17.
The soldier, who has been under detention since the day of the shooting, and the colonel have been referred to a military investigative judge who will start questioning them on Monday, according to NNA.
Communications Minister David Amsalem rebukes fellow Likud party lawmaker Gideon Sa’ar for saying earlier today that he wants open primaries for the party leadership and intends to challenge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if they are held.
“This is a time of national emergency, not a time for infighting based on ego and personal aspirations,” Amsalem, a staunch Netanyahu loyalist, says in a tweet. “I wish the lesson on loyalty learned by the bloc members will also be learned by our friend Gideon Sa’ar.”
He was referring to Netanyahu’s bloc of 55 right-wing and religious lawmakers from various parties who have backed him in coalition talks and let him negotiate on their behalf, which was one of the sticking points in the failed talks for a unity government.
Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency says a court session in the case of a Lebanese American accused of dealing with Israel has been postponed because of his illness.
NNA says today’s session of Amer Fakhoury in the southern market town of Nabatiyeh has been postponed until December 5.
Lebanon and Israel have been officially at war since Israel’s creation in 1948. Fakhoury had worked as a senior warden at the Khiam Prison in southern Lebanon that was run by an Israeli-backed militia, known as the South Lebanon Army.
He was detained after returning to his native Lebanon from the US in September.
Outside the courthouse in Nabatiyeh, a stronghold of the Hezbollah terror group, scores of people, including former Khiam prison detainees, gathered outside the building known as Palace of Justice.
Likud MK Michal Shir says if party leadership primaries are held, she will support Gideon Sa’ar, who today called for primaries to be held and said he would run against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Shir, who previously was Sa’ar’s political adviser, tweets: “For a party that prides itself on democracy, leadership primaries are not a choice but a duty. In the race I will support Gideon Sa’ar, the best-suited person with the best skills for forming a government and safeguarding the right wing’s values.”
The Justice Ministry in a statement says Attorney General Avichai Mandleblit will announce his decision on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s three corruption cases at 7:30 p.m.
It says the announcement will be at the ministry’s headquarters in Jerusalem, and that Mandelblit will take no questions from the media.
If, as widely expected, charges will be announced, it would be the first time Israel is led by a premier facing a criminal indictment.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he’ll hold a press conference at 8:30 p.m. at his official residence in Jerusalem, an hour after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is set to announce whether the premier will be charged in three corruption cases.
The Likud party calls on activists to quickly arrive near the Prime Minister’s Residence to express support for him ahead of the announcement.
Some demonstrators are reportedly already outside the residence, chanting slogans against Netanyahu.
A masked man today entered a shop in Jerusalem, fired a gun and fled, police say.
Nobody is hurt in the incident on Dahomey Street in the Kiryat Menahem neighborhood of the capital.
Police forces launch a search for the perpetrator and examine the scene for evidence. An initial probe is said to indicate the incident is criminal, not nationally motivated.
If Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announces today that he plans to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that does not mean the premier will face any immediate legal peril. It could take months before formal charges are filed, as Netanyahu is expected to ask the Knesset for parliamentary immunity.
The Knesset House Committee and plenum would have to rule on Netanyahu’s immunity, but the committee does not currently have any members, as no coalition agreement has yet been signed in the 22nd Knesset dividing up committee seats between the parliament’s factions.
Only once a new coalition is formed — either over the next three weeks or, failing that, after the next round of elections slated for March — can a Knesset House Committee take up the question.
Even if Netanyahu’s immunity request is rejected, it could take until May or June for the formal decision to be made — and possibly even more than that, if the next elections also don’t lead to a coalition. A formal indictment could still be more than seven months away.
Embattled office-sharing startup WeWork says it will lay off 2,400 employees of its 15.000 worldwide as the company struggles to reorganize amid mounting losses.
The news comes in the wake of the company’s failed attempt to launch an initial public offering.
The dismissed workers “will receive severance, continued benefits, and other forms of assistance to aid in their career transition,” a spokesperson says in a statement.
The Justice Ministry says Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has decided that after several years of investigation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will face charges in three corruption cases, including bribery in one of them, marking the first time Israel is led by a premier facing a criminal indictment.
Mandelblit rejected the arguments posed by Netanyahu’s attorneys in last month’s hearing, the ministry says in a statement.
In Case 4000, the most serious of the three cases, Netanyahu will face charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust for allegedly pushing regulatory decisions financially benefiting the controlling shareholder of the Bezeq telecommunications group, Shaul Elovitch, in return for ongoing changes in the coverage from Bezeq’s Walla news site to be more positive toward the prime minister.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu will be charged with fraud and breach of trust for allegedly receiving illicit gifts such as champagne, cigars and jewelry valued at some NIS 700,000 ($201,000) from billionaire benefactors Arnon Milchan and James Packer, and allegedly reciprocating in Milchan’s case with various forms of assistance.
In Case 2000, Netanyahu will be charged with fraud and breach of trust for allegedly agreeing with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes to weaken a rival daily — the staunchly pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom — in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth. The agreement was never implemented.
Netanyahu denies all wrongdoing and has frequently claimed that the investigations against him are a witch hunt and a conspiracy orchestrated by the media, the left, police and the state prosecution.
Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes and Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch and his wife Iris Elovitch will also face bribery charges, the Justice Ministry says — Mozes in Case 2000 and Elovitches in Case 4000.
The following is a translation of the relevant part in the indictment detailing the bribery charge against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Case 4000.
In that case, the Justice Ministry has said Netanyahu will face charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust for allegedly pushing regulatory decisions financially benefiting the controlling shareholder of the Bezeq telecommunications group, Shaul Elovitch, in return for ongoing changes in the coverage from Bezeq’s Walla news site to be more positive toward the prime minister. Elovitch’s wife, Iris, was also involved in the illicit dealings.
“The defendant Netanyahu took the aforementioned illicit benefits from the Elovitches, knowing he was taking a bribe as a public official for his actions related to his public role,” the indictment says.
“In return for these benefits, the defendant Netanyahu executed his authority while making use of his high-ranking position to carry out actions benefiting the defendant Elovitch in a significant manner, while deviating from orderly conduct.”
Left-wing lawmakers call on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to resign after corruption charges are announced against him in three cases.
“Netanyahu must go now,” says Nitzan Horowitz, leader of the left-wing Democratic Camp party. “For the sake of the citizens of Israel and the state, he cannot stay in power for one more minute. Those who cling to their blind loyalty to him will be remembered as having helped in the most serious corruption yet of Israeli democracy, and of directly hurting the country.”
Fellow Democratic Camp MK Tamar Zandberg says: “Now it’s final: the Prime Minister cannot serve even one more day. It is incumbent on him to resign this evening. He has no mandate to run the state. If he does not do this no one should sit in his government or his party. He should not run for election and cannot receive a mandate to form a government. He must leave public life immediately.”
Ayman Odeh, leader of the predominantly Arab Joint List, says: “On the day that Netanyahu will pay for his criminal misdeeds we can begin to repair the damage he caused with his social crimes. The racism and the hatred that he caused will not disappear with his actions and it is up to us — Arabs and Jews — to build a peace-loving society together and an equitable democracy that will serve all citizens of the country.”
Likud MK Miki Zohar is one of the few Netanyahu supporters to comment in the immediate aftermath of the announcement of criminal indictments against the prime minister.
“The first emotion I feel: great sadness,” he says in a statement. “I’m sad for the prime minister, what a ‘great’ gift the state gave him for giving his best years for us all. Everything was known ahead of time. We knew the attorney general won’t be able to withstand the pressure brought to bear on him, we knew that [State Prosecutor] Shai Nitzan would fight tooth and nail, no matter the cost, to ensure serious indictments against the prime minister.”
“We will not be silent. We will not give in.”
Labor-Gesher leader Amir Peretz claims Benjamin Netanyahu’s legal woes was the reason efforts to form a coalition failed.
“Netanyahu’s indictments are why no government was established in Israel,” he says. “In a democracy we cannot tolerate a prime minister under indictment. The political crisis in Israel is only because of his indictments. If we can prevent Netanyahu from grabbing the horns of the altar, we will prevent the third elections in under a year.”
The Blue and White party posts a video of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking 11 years ago — as then-premier Ehud Olmert battled corruption allegations — in which the Likud leader said a prime minister could not function under criminal investigation.
Netanyahu says in the video: “A prime minister neck deep in investigations does not have a moral and public mandate to make fateful decisions for the State of Israel. There is a fear, I must say, and it is real and not unfounded, that he will make his decisions for his personal interest of political survival, not for the national interest.”
"ראש ממשלה ששקוע עד צוואר בחקירות, אין לו מנדט מוסרי וציבורי לקבוע דברים כל כך גורליים למדינת ישראל. כי קיים חשש, אני חייב להגיד, אמיתי ולא בלתי מבוסס, שהוא יכריע הכרעות על בסיס האינטרס האישי של ההישרדות הפוליטית שלו, ולא על בסיס האינטרס הלאומי". pic.twitter.com/vFYq8RHy0a
— כחול לבן (@Kachollavan19) November 21, 2019
Center-left reactions to the charges against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu keep pouring in, with all calling on him to step down.
Blue and White’s Gabi Ashkenazi says: “The day that an indictment is filed against a prime minister is a sad day for the State of Israel. I hope for Netanyahu’s sake and for that of the citizens of the State of Israel that he will be acquitted but there is no doubt that he must now concentrate on his own case rather than on running the state.”
Democratic Camp’s Stav Shaffir: “Today the Netanyahu era is over. If he had a drop of honor he would resign this evening. If Likud and right-wing MKs have any respect for their constituents they would oust him. If we go to elections again or if he remains in power for another few months of shameful rule, from today on it is possible to plan for the day after Bibi. Connect the tribes, eliminate the hatred, work for tomorrow.”
Labor-Gesher’s Itzik Shmuli calls it the “most serious indictment against an elected official in the history of the state,” adding: “Netanyahu lost all moral and public justification to make decisions on behalf of the people.”
Blue and White’s Ofer Shelah: “Netanyahu and his loyalists are engaged in a last-ditch effort to destroy the justice system to save Bibi. This cannot be allowed to happen. And we cannot allow someone indicted for bribery to be prime minister.”
Now that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces formal indictment, he will have to give up the other ministerial portfolios he holds.
Netanyahu is currently health minister, welfare minister and diaspora minister. Until recently, he also served as defense minister and previously he also held the foreign affairs portfolio, among others.
Israeli law requires a minister to step down if charged with a criminal offense, but not the prime minister.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit at a press conference announces his decision to charge Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in three corruption cases, as the Justice Ministry released in a statement an hour ago.
Mandelblit details the fraud and breach of trust allegations against Netanyahu in all three cases, and bribery in one of them.
He says the decision was made “only for legal considerations and based on evidence. No other consideration influenced me. I performed my duty.”
He says the “violent” discourse against the legal system must stop and be “denounced.”
“There is a difference between criticism and baseless conspiracy theories,” he says in response to countless attacks by Netanyahu and his loyalists.
He says he did not hesitate to close other investigations involving the premier when he found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing.
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a lot going for him. The decision to file charges against him was made with a heavy heart but wholeheartedly,” Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit says.
“The process was professional and serious,” he says, slamming attacks on the process and “partial and tendentious, not to say distorted” media reports and leaks about the investigations throughout the process.
Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief rival who yesterday conceded he failed in forming a coalition, issues a short response to the criminal charges against the premier.
“A sad day for the State of Israel,” Gantz says in a tweet.
State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan is reportedly saying in closed meetings that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won’t be able from now on to receive the mandate to form a government due to the criminal charges against him.
Sources within the Justice Ministry are quoted by the Globes website as saying Nitzan has said that while the law allows a premier to keep serving under an indictment and doesn’t compel him to resign, past Supreme Court rulings support the thesis that he cannot form a government when facing charges.
Nitzan refuses to comment on the report, and his office says that “no decision has been made yet on the matter.”
After Gideon Sa’ar, another senior Likud lawmaker intends to run against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if party primaries are held, the Kan public broadcaster reports.
The report does not name that MK, but says he’ll likely announce his bid publicly in the coming weeks.
He reportedly made the decision in light of the criminal charges announced today against the premier.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responds to the charges announced against him, saying they are “an attempted coup against a prime minister.”
“I dedicated my life for the state,” he says in a press statement from his Jerusalem residence. “I fought for it, was injured for it and am very proud for that. But this is a sad day. One needs to be blind to not see that something bad is happening in the legal system.”
He goes on to say the investigations were “infected” by ulterior motives and are “selective enforcement on steroids.” He criticizes the timing, saying the announcement comes at the “most sensitive time politically since the establishment of the state.”
After a long public defense of himself in light of the charges against him, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls for an inquiry into the investigators in charge of the probes against him.
“We need to investigate the investigators and the state prosecution which cooks these infected cases,” he says.
Channel 12 publishes a poll conducted before today’s charges announced against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying 46 percent of respondents thought that if an indictment is announced, the premier must resign.
17% of them said he should take a leave of absence, and 30% thought he should remain prime minister.
The poll also included a Knesset poll ahead of likely new elections, predicting a similar balance of power to the current one, but it remains to be seen whether today’s dramatic announcement will affect potential voters in future surveys.
Associates of Shlomo Filber, the former Communications Ministry director general and one of the key state witnesses against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, reportedly issued a strongly worded statement accusing the premier of witness harassment.
In his speech tonight denouncing the charges against him, Netanyahu alleged that investigators had made use of an illicit tactic against Filber to blackmail him into becoming a state witness in Case 4000.
“Netanyahu is lying,” Filber’s associates say, according to Channel 12. “Filber wasn’t blackmailed during his interrogation and no illicit tactic was employed — that is a purposeful blood libel.
“There is no personal or secret basis behind his testimony. This is an attempt to harass a witness and sully his name.”
Channel 12 quotes an anonymous Likud source as saying Netanyahu should be ousted from the premiership.
“We need to understand that the Netanyahu era is over and lead to change,” the source says.
Benny Gantz says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “must step down,” rejecting the premier’s defense of himself after corruption charges were announced.
“I have full trust in the law enforcement officials, headed by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit,” he says in a statement. “I am sure they are doing there job faithfully, with integrity and professionalism.
Rejecting Netanyahu’s claim, Gantz says “there is no coup in Israel but a person making a stronghold in its leadership. Netanyahu with his appearance tonight proved that he must step down and go deal with his legal issues. He also knows that the big and complex challenges Israel faces… require a prime minister who will devote his or her entire time and energy.”
Channel 12 says that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hearing last month ended up worsening the charges against the premier.
It says that the document published by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit in February said the alleged bribery relationship between Netanyahu and Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch in Case 4000 and with Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes in Case 2000 began in January 2014.
But in today’s indictment, those relations are said to have begun as early as December 2012 — more than a year earlier.
In the first reaction to the charges announced against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by a party allied with the ruling Likud party, the ultra-Orthodox Shas says it is confident the premier’s innocence will be proven in court.
“We support the prime minister, a person who has contributed immensely to the security and development of the State of Israel,” Shas says in a statement.
“Mr. prime minister, we believe and are confident that your innocence will be proven and justice will be served. Be strong and don’t fret. This is a difficult day for the State of Israel. We pray that Israel will come out of this tough crisis strong and unified.”
Former commissioners and deputy commissioners of the Israel Police declare their support for law enforcement officials, who have come under attack from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In a letter published by Channel 12, the former top brass say that “to weaken the police’s resilience is to weaken national resilience and the deterrence of the law enforcement system.”
Though the former officers do not mention Netanyahu by name, it is apparent that their statement is a response to attacks by him and his political allies — on Thursday, after the corruption indictment against him was announced, Netanyahu called for “the investigators to be investigated.”
“We are watching with consternation in recent days the unbridled attacks on the Israel Police, its commanders and officers, as well as against the entire law enforcement system and the gatekeepers,” they say.