Opposition lawmakers and media pundits lambasted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday evening for putting on an “election show,” after what he had promised would be a “dramatic announcement” turned out to be a complaint that police refused to let him confront state witnesses in the corruption cases against him.
In the live statement on prime time television, Netanyahu demanded that police allow him to face the state witnesses who have testified against him in the three graft cases in which he is a suspect.
Netanyahu’s Likud party sent out a statement at 5 p.m. promising a “dramatic announcement,” at 8 p.m. and all of Israel’s main news channels devoted the top of their prime time broadcasts to his statement.
But as Netanyahu began speaking, three hours of feverish speculation over what the dramatic announcement could be quickly turned to annoyance over what critics saw as little more than a campaign speech, with no drama in sight.
Netanyahu “is behaving as if he is in a reality show,” Hadashot news reporter Guy Peleg noted.
While other news channels stuck with Netanyahu for the statement, which lasted several minutes, Channel 10 news cut away from Netanyahu’s announcement mid-speech and moved on to other stories.
Opposition Leader Shelly Yachimovich said she would ask the Central Elections Committee, which regulates electioneering, to prevent similar future incidents.
“We witnessed a cynical and lame election show by someone who tries with all his might to escape justice,” she said.
“It is a blatant and coarse intervention by Netanyahu in his legal case, while creating a fake drama out of nothing and taking over screen time like a dictator,” she charged.
Labor chief Avi Gabbay called on Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and Israel Resilience chair Benny Gantz to unite with his party in order to replace Netanyahu in the upcoming April 9 elections, and to commit to not sit in a government headed by Netanyahu.
“In a normal country, a prime minister does not behave this way,” Gabbay said. “In a normal country, the prime minister does not attack the law enforcement authorities. Instead of dealing with the security of the residents of the south, the cost of living, or the health system collapsing, Netanyahu is busy rescuing himself from the investigations.”
Tzipi Livni, leader of Hatnua party who was dismissed by Gabbay from the Zionist Unon opposition party last week, said the speech was “another transparent attempt to delay justice in a hysterical, victim-like attack on law enforcement bodies for personal needs.”
“Instead of watching Netanyahu’s shows, we need to fight to save Israel from Netanyahu,” she said.
Tamar Zandberg, head of the left-wing Meretz party, mocked Netanyahu and said that “about such a ‘dramatic announcement’ you can really say ‘there’s nothing because nothing happened,'” using the premier’s longtime slogan regarding his corruption probes.
“The only dramatic thing here is a prime minister who continues to stay in office with a [police] recommendation of three bribery trials,” Zandberg said in a statement. “Until Netanyahu resigns, this is election propaganda that shouldn’t be broadcast.”
The newly formed Israel Resilience Party — headed by Gantz, who is regarded as a potential rival to Netanyahu, but is yet to speak in detail about his ideology and proposed policies — offered a terse statement, merely saying that “it is time for leadership that deals with the state’s citizens rather than with itself.”
Pundits in Hebrew-language media were similarly unimpressed with Netanyahu’s speech, with many complaining that the supposed dramatic announcement had contained no drama.
“This wasn’t a dramatic announcement — it was hutzpah on live TV,” Channel 10 reporter Barak Ravid wrote on Twitter.
Even right-wing pundit Avishai Grinzaig said in a tweet that “the prime minister is unfortunately talking nonsense. There is no reserved right to confront state witnesses during a police investigation. That decision can only be made by the investigation team. In court, Netanyahu can confront the state witnesses during the cross examination as much as he wants.”
Speaking from a podium at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said earlier that his requests to confront state’s witnesses in the graft probes against him had been refused.
The state’s witnesses in the Netanyahu probes are his former chief of staff, Ari Harow; Nir Hefetz, a former media adviser to the Netanyahu family; and Shlomo Filber, the former Communications Ministry director general.
“I wanted to look them in the eye and throw the truth at them. I demanded it once and was refused. I demanded it a second time and was refused. Why was I refused this confrontation, that is so necessary to uncovering the truth? What are they afraid of? What have they got to hide?”
Netanyahu said that in addition to him not being allowed to face state witnesses who have testified against him, police have ignored other possible witnesses who could have testified in his favor.
He said that the head of the anti-trust authority, David Eilat, who backed a regulatory decision considered suspicious by police, was not questioned.
Netanyahu said he wanted to face his accusers, and, if possible, to do so on live television.
He is suspected of bribery in three cases, one of which involves gifts from wealthy associates, with the other two involving potential quid-pro-quo deals for regulatory favors in exchange for positive media coverage.
Netanyahu has long accused police, the media and the political left of pushing a conspiracy against him.
Netanyahu has been vocal in recent days in his opposition to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s reported intention of announcing his decision on a possible draft indictment prior to the April 9 general election.
Media reports have indicated that Mandelblit seeks to announce his decision on a possible indictment in February.
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.
Netanyahu has dismissed the allegations as a witch hunt and has pushed for Mandelblit to hold back on releasing a decision to indict until after the election, citing the fact that a hearing process on the matter in which he would give his side of the story cannot be completed before the election.