A prominent member of Israel’s ruling Likud party on Wednesday upbraided a longtime confidant of Benjamin Netanyahu for signing a deal to turn state witness in an investigation against the prime minister, saying that those who do so are “inferior,” “immoral,” “snitches” and “criminals.”
Coalition whip David Amsalem made the comments a day after Communications Ministry director Shlomo Filber signed a deal that would see him incriminate Netanyahu in a major corruption investigation dubbed Case 4000. Filber has reportedly agreed to testify that he was instructed by the premier to provide regulatory benefits to telephone company Bezeq in exchange for chief Bezeq shareholder Shaul Elovitch giving Netanyahu and his family positive coverage on the Walla news site, which he owns.
In exchange for his testimony, Filber reportedly demanded that he not serve time in prison, a provision police approved.
“I think a state witness is an inferior thing, usually a criminal. In many cases he is the main criminal, but they are told, ‘Come and testify against a more senior official’ who usually has committed a less serious alleged offense, ‘and we’ll give you benefits,'” Amsalem told Israel Radio.
“My fantasy is for my daughter not to marry a state witness,” he continued, adding that “no citizen would even open a grocery store with a state witness. I view it as a socially immoral thing.”
Amsalem also called a state witness someone who “snitches on their friends to save themselves, not for the greater good of the State of Israel.”
On Tuesday, a separate alleged corruption case involving the prime minister was revealed. Dubbed Case 1270, it involves a former spokesperson for the Netanyahu family, Nir Hefetz, allegedly offering in 2015 to appoint judge Hila Gerstel as attorney general if she agreed to halt an investigation into the prime minister’s wife, Sara.
Police have already recommended that Netanyahu stand trial for bribery in two other corruption cases.
A poll conducted on Monday, after dramatic developments in the Bezeq case that saw many senior officials arrested, but before Hefetz’s deal with Gerstel was revealed, found that Netanyahu’s Likud party is gaining popularity despite the mounting investigations against the premier.
The poll, conducted at the request of the ruling party and published by the Israel Hayom daily, found that had elections been held on Monday, Likud would win 34 seats in the Knesset, an increase of four, with its closest rival, centrist opposition party Yesh Atid, at 20.
Netanyahu hailed the result on his Facebook page on Wednesday morning, quoting a verse from Exodus that describes the flourishing of the Israelites under the yoke of Egypt:
“But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread,” he proclaimed.
״וכאשר יענו אותו, כן ירבה וכן יפרוץ״ – הליכוד מזנק ל-34 מנדטים!
Zionist Union, the current main opposition party, would shrink according to the poll to just 12 seats, below the religious right-wing Jewish Home party, with 14. The mostly Arab Joint List party would win 12 seats, United Torah Judaism would have nine seats, while the other ultra-Orthodox party, Shas, would not make it back into the Knesset. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party would have seven seats, with right-wing Yisrael Beytenu and left-wing Meretz both at six.
Netanyahu has received wall-to-wall support in his coalition, with the exception of the scandal-ridden Likud MK Oren Hazan, who on Wednesday morning called on Netanyahu to take a leave of absence due to the investigations. Hazan, a frequent critic of Netanyahu and other senior figures in Likud, claimed that many in his party agreed with his outlook but were afraid to speak out.
“Sit with [Attorney General] Avichai Mandelblit and make right decisions,” Hazan addressed the prime minister in an interview with Israel Radio. “The government needs to elect a substitute from the Likud ranks. There are others in Likud who agree with me and aren’t talking.
“In the past I told Netanyahu that Likud is preparing an alternative government,” added Hazan. “I think that is the case today as well.”
Hazan was recently handed a six-month ban from the Knesset plenum for a string of violations.
Amsalem, in his interview, refused to directly respond to Hazan’s comments but called the idea of Netanyahu taking a leave of absence “useless,” since when a prime minister is replaced, during his absence “everything is changed; it’s a sad joke.
“A state witness needs to be utilized only in cases of severe offenses,” Amsalem added, dismissing the allegations against Netanyahu on grounds of “common sense” and claiming it would be illogical of the prime minister to have proposed deals that have a “one in a trillion” chance of bearing fruit.
Last week, police recommended that Netanyahu be indicted for fraud, breach of trust, and bribery in two other cases.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife are alleged to have received illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, most notably the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, totaling NIS 1 million ($282,000). In return, Netanyahu is alleged by police to have intervened on Milchan’s behalf in matters relating to legislation, business dealings, and visa arrangements.
Case 2000 involves a suspected illicit quid-pro-quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth 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.
The prime minister has also been linked indirectly to Case 3000, a large investigation into suspected corruption surrounding a multi-billion-shekel purchase of naval vessels and submarines from a German shipbuilder. While Netanyahu has not been named as a suspect, close associates of his, including two personal aides, have been arrested or questioned.
Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing in all the cases.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.