New coalition chairman David Amsalem said Saturday that a prime minister who is indicted on bribery charges must step down, but clarified that he does not regard any of the charges that Benjamin Netanyahu is facing serious enough to be considered “corruption.”
“A prime minister who is indicted for bribe-taking cannot continue to be prime minister,” the Likud lawmaker and close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during an interview at the National Bar Association conference in Eilat.
He later issued a statement to clarify his remarks.
“Sorry to disappoint the left and the media, but this is my position: police recommendations have no weight legally or publicly,” he tweeted.
“As far as I am concerned, corruption is accepting envelopes and illicit money, not cigars from a personal friend. An indictment for corruption in such a situation is not at all relevant to Netanyahu,” he said.
Amsalem, who replaced David Bitan (Likud) as coalition whip this week said at the meeting that he nevertheless expected the police to recommend an indictment against Netanyahu in a pair of corruption probes. (Bitan resigned while he battles corruption allegations.)
“The police have no choice. They are already on their way and will recommend an indictment,” said Amsalem, not specifying when he thought the charges would be handed down.
Heberew media have reported that police are planning on recommending that Netanyahu stand trial in two criminal cases currently open against him, over suspicions he received illegal gifts and favors from businessmen while advancing their interests, possibly within the next few weeks.
In Case 1000, 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 “Noni” Mozes that would have seen the prime minister hobble a rival daily, the Sheldon Adelson-backed Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.
Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing in all instances.
Speaking at a Likud rally last week, the prime minister played down the significance of expected future recommendations by police to state prosecutors that he be indicted over the graft probes.
“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.”
Amsalem has been one of Netanyahu’s staunchest supporters in the Knesset, including spearheading a bill that would have given the prime minister immunity from investigation and another that would bar police from giving recommendations to prosecutors on indictments.
Amid a political outcry, the so-called police recommendations bill was ultimately revised to exclude any open cases, including the investigations into the prime minister and Bitan. The proposed legislation is up for its final plenary votes on Monday to pass it into law.
The immunity law, meanwhile, was shelved.
Addressing claims that the legislation was tailor-made for Netanyahu, Amsalem said Saturday that “the media and politics are a world of lies.”
The coalition whip argued that 80% of cases in which indictments were recommended by the police later went on to be closed without charges. “In the meantime, great damage was done to the people affected,” he said.
Several opposition lawmakers said Amsalem did not go far enough in his comment regarding an indictment against the prime minister. “A prime minister indicted for a crime must resign. Period,” Meretz chairwoman Zahava Galon tweeted, emphasizing that the type of charge brought down against the prime minister was not the issue.