Likud supporters boo president at rally

Netanyahu: If police recommend charges against me — so what?

At Likud event, PM likens corruption investigations to past probes into now-president Rivlin; president’s office rejects comparison

Raoul Wootliff is a former Times of Israel political correspondent and Daily Briefing podcast producer.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a rally with his supporters, in Tel Aviv, on December 19, 2017. (Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a rally with his supporters, in Tel Aviv, on December 19, 2017. (Flash90)

As investigators wrapped up investigations into his affairs, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday downplayed the effects of a likely police recommendation to the attorney general that charges be pressed against him.

“If there will be recommendations [to indict] — so what?” Netanyahu told a rally of Likud members. “Here’s a fact I doubt the public knows: The vast majority of police recommendations end with nothing. More than 60 percent of police recommendations are thrown out.”

In the meantime, “these peoples’ lives are ruined,” he added.

During a fiery speech at a Hanukkah event in Kfar Maccabiah to hundreds of Likud supporters, Netanyahu likened himself to President Reuven Rivlin, who was once subject to police investigations, yet never faced any charges.

The mention of the president, who has irked the right-wing voters with criticism of the government and its policies, was greeted with boos by the Likud supporters.

The prime minister said that although the investigations into Rivlin ended without charges they took a toll. He referred to comments by Rivlin, who recently lamented about the investigations: “Who will return to me and my family the three and a half years that they took from us?”

The current president was investigated in seven cases. In one, Rivlin was investigated by police in 2001 while serving as a Likud MK on suspicion that he received money from building contractor David Appel in exchange for advancing legislation that would have benefited the businessman. The case was closed by the attorney general.

Sources in the President’s Office rejected Netanyahu’s comparison, saying police never recommended Rivlin be indicted.

President Reuven Rivlin speaks during a conference of the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America in Los Angeles, on November 14, 2017. (Mark Neyman/GPO)

“The police are the ones who recommended closing the cases against the president at the time,” they told The Times of Israel, contradicting Netanyahu’s assertion. “Attorney General Mazuz closed all seven cases based on the police recommendation.”

Police did not immediately respond to a request to comment on their recommendations in the Rivlin cases, but official records show that their summary of the investigations concluded the probes should be closed due to a” lack of guilt.”

A spokesperson for Netanyahu declined to comment on whether the prime minister would rescind his statements.

At the Hanukkah event, the prime minister claimed anti-corruption protests in Tel Aviv, held on Saturday nights for three consecutive weeks, were orchestrated by the New Israel Fund.

“The whole world sees these achievements, the public sees them as well as the leftists in politics and the media,” he said. “Because they see it, they know they cannot beat us at the polls. That’s why they are trying to defeat us with slander and demonstrations, organized and orchestrated among others by the left-wing New Israel Fund.”

Israelis holding signs and shout slogans during a protest against the corruption of the government in Tel Aviv on December 16, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“These recommendations will be thrown aside and will end with nothing. And I say this for a simple reason: There will be nothing because there was nothing,” he said.

In his speech, Netanyahu also attacked the media for leaking information about the investigations and for making predictions about his downfall.

“What will happen with the recommendations? Here’s a spoiler. In a few weeks, reporters and commentators will sit in the television studios and begin the news with, ‘[these are] serious recommendations. One could even say, very serious. Perhaps, one of the most serious the state has ever known,'” he said.

“You may ask, how do I know this? As early as January 2017, almost a year ago, the news item was miraculously leaked: The police will recommend an indictment against Netanyahu. They knew a year ago, even before the investigation,” he said. “Why did it take a year? A waste of time and public funds. And then there will be recommendations. So what?”

Shortly after the speech, senior police officials told the Ynet news site that the prime minister’s speech was “very strange.”

“Apparently Netanyahu was directing his remarks to the attorney general because he knows what is in the file,” the sources, who were not named, were quoted as saying.

The police officials said the investigation into the prime minister’s gift-taking was about to turn into an investigation into bribery, which is why it was taking time.

Netanyahu is a suspect in two corruption investigations, known as cases 1000 and 2000.

In the first, Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.

Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid-pro-quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister weaken a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing in both cases.

The prime minister has been questioned seven times by police, most recently on Friday.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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