Netanyahu to US talk radio: Israelis support me despite corruption allegations

PM tells conservative shock jock Mark Levin most of the public understands his contributions to country and ‘have a real confidence in the future’

Raoul Wootliff is the Times of Israel's former political correspondent and producer of the Daily Briefing podcast.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, talk to the press after they attend an exhibit entitled '3000 years of history: Jews in Jerusalem' at the United Nations on March 8, 2018. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, talk to the press after they attend an exhibit entitled '3000 years of history: Jews in Jerusalem' at the United Nations on March 8, 2018. (AFP/Timothy A. Clary)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told US radio this week that, despite the ongoing corruption investigations against him, most Israelis believe he knows best how to protect the country, help it thrive, and “have a real confidence in the future.”

During an interview with controversial talk-radio host Mark Levin, a segment of which was posted on YouTube ahead of its Sunday airing on Fox News’ “Life, Liberty and Levin,” the conservative shock jock broached the topic of the criminal probes with the prime minister.

“I am a bit confounded and I think the American people are confounded,” Levin said, sneering at a recent controversy in which a judge and prosecutor were caught texting each other before a hearing in a case linked to Netanyahu, and a recent deal for one of the prime minister’s former aides to turn state’s witness against him.

An advert for the Fox News show ‘Life Liberty and Levin’ featuring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Fox News)

“I’d rather think about whether I want to comment about this, but I’d say that you are pretty perceptive,” responded a hesitant Netanyahu, before launching into a defense of his time in office.

“The support I’ve received time and time again — I’ve been elected prime minister four times — that’s not an obvious thing,” Netanyahu said.

“They say today I’ve never been stronger in public opinion. Why is that? It’s because I think the citizens do understand that we work to make sure, I work to make sure, that the country is safe. That’s my first job, to protect the State of Israel. And second that the country is prosperous and we’ve turned Israel into a tremendous engine of innovation, it’s a free-market economy in technology and it’s become a world leader in so many areas and people recognize that,” said Netanyahu.

He pointed to Israel’s consistently high scores on the global Happiness Index as evidence that Israelis, particularly young Israelis, are aware of his contributions to the country.

“And people say, well, ‘How can that be? Must be a fluke,’ but it keeps going up and they say, ‘How can it be? It’s a country in this horrible neighborhood, you’ve got terrorism, you’ve got radical Islam, you’ve got challenges,’ but it comes up ahead of most countries in the world,” said Netanyahu.

“They say, ‘Yeah, but that’s the old timers, they are already fixed, their lives are okay, but that’s the old people, what about the young people? You know where they [the youth] come up [on the index]? Number five! Which means they have a real confidence in the future, and that’s because I think they appreciate and… I know that’s what drives me and animates me: How to ensure that the Jewish state has a permanent future of security and prosperity… and peace if we can get it. The people of Israel I think do identify that.

“So the answer is I think they do understand. All of them? No. Most of them, yes.”

In recent weeks, Levin has said that “radical leftists in Israel are leading the movement to oust” the prime minister.

Netanyahu has been in the United States for most of the week,  meeting with US President Donald Trump and speaking at the AIPAC pro-Israel lobby’s policy conference.

Speaking to the Israeli press before leaving for Israel on Thursday, Netanyahu complained that he and his wife, Sara, were being “attacked all the time,” continuing his blitz against the police and Israeli media in light of the mounting corruption investigations against him and the recruitment of several state’s witnesses to testify against him.

“We are attacked all the time — every hour, every minute,” the prime minister told a reporter for Hadashot TV while standing next to his wife in New York after a meeting at the UN.

“I will also tell the truth that is maybe inconvenient for people to hear, about the support — for me, my wife, my family — support at levels that I cannot remember,” Netanyahu said. “Israeli citizens are giving me and my wife support en masse, not everyone, but en masse. They want justice.”

Earlier this week, a former Netanyahu family top media adviser, Nir Hefetz, became the third former close aide to the prime minister to agree to cooperate with police.

As part of the state’s witness agreement he signed, Hefetz, suspected of bribery in the case, was told that he would not serve prison time or pay a fine for his actions.

He has promised to provide police with incriminating text messages and recordings of Netanyahu and his wife in several criminal cases, including the Bezeq probe — known as Case 4000 — and the so-called Case 1000, which involves suspicions Netanyahu received gifts from businessmen in exchange for favors.

The so-called Case 4000 investigation involves suspicions that Bezeq’s controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch ordered the Walla news site, which he owns, to grant fawning coverage to the Netanyahus in exchange for the prime minister’s advancement of regulations benefiting him financially.

Last month, police recommended Netanyahu be indicted in a pair of corruption investigations, known as Cases 1000 and 2000.

In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, amounting to some NIS 1 million ($282,000) worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Australian resort owner James Packer, in return for certain benefits.

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 any wrongdoing in all of the cases.

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