No need yet for PM to resign over cigar graft suspicions — Labor leader

Short of indictment, Netanyahu should just ‘admit wrongdoing’ and people should move on, says Avi Gabbay

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

Labor party leader Avi Gabbay speaks during a press conference at the party's offices in Tel Aviv on October 1, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)
Labor party leader Avi Gabbay speaks during a press conference at the party's offices in Tel Aviv on October 1, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)

Labor party leader Avi Gabbay said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not need to resign over suspicions that he and his wife accepted illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, continuing a streak of comments that have shown the head of the dovish party leaning into the right wing of the political spectrum.

Netanyahu is being investigated in two corruption cases, one involving suspicions that he took hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan. He denies any wrongdoing. Opposition figures have called for Netanyahu to be charged and for him to step down.

But speaking to Channel 2 in an interview that aired Tuesday night, Gabbay said Netanyahu should apologize and the public should move on.

“Look how many people are talking about these things. It doesn’t bring us respect,” he said. “I think the prime minister should have come and said ‘I made a mistake.’ Instead of saying, ‘This is allowed, this isn’t,’ and all sorts of statements like that, just say, ‘I made a mistake.'”

“I don’t think he should resign over the cigars story, [but] he must take responsibility,” Gabbay went on, referring to what is known as Case 1000.

However, he said Netanyahu should step down if he is charged, even though the prime minister maintains that legally he can remain in office unless he is convicted.

Arnon Milchan (center) with Shimon Peres (left) and Benjamin Netanyahu, March 28, 2005. (Flash90)

He added, “If he’s indicted, that’s something different.” In that case, Netanyahu would have to quit his position, said Gabbay.

The cigar suspicions are one of two cases involving the prime minister. A second case revolves around 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.

Investigators are also expected to set a date for Netanyahu to provide testimony as a witness in Case 3000, which involves suspected corruption by several associates of the prime minister in the sale of German submarines to Israel, according to Channel 2.

Gabbay, a political neophyte and a newcomer to the Labor Party, has recently made a number of statements that analysts have interpreted as a shift to the right in an effort to draw voters away from Netanyahu’s Likud party and more centrist factions, such as Yesh Atid.

In the same interview, Gabbay said he did not see the evacuation of Israeli West Bank settlements as a prerequisite for a peace agreement with the Palestinians, placing him at odds with many in his party.

He also said over the weekend that he would not invite the Joint List of Arab parties to sit in a government with him.

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