Avi Gabbay predicts the 'end of the Netanyahu era'

Opposition calls on PM to resign immediately, while Likud MKs cry ‘coup’

After police recommend Netanyahu be indicted for bribery, loyalist lawmaker protests ‘contemptible move’; Zionist Union says police perseverance a ‘badge of honor’

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) with Tourism Minister Yariv Levin during a Knesset vote on the budget, which coincided with police publishing recommendations that Netanyahu be indicted for bribery and breach of trust, February 13, 2018.   (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) with Tourism Minister Yariv Levin during a Knesset vote on the budget, which coincided with police publishing recommendations that Netanyahu be indicted for bribery and breach of trust, February 13, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should resign immediately in the wake of the police recommendations made public Tuesday night that he be indicted for a series of corruption charges including bribery, fraud, and breach of trust, the main opposition party, Zionist Union, said in a statement. And if he refuses, the heads of the parties in his governing coalition should force him out, it said.

“The police recommendations are clear, tough and decisive. It’s a difficult evening when Israel Police recommends prosecuting a prime minister in Israel with bribery, fraud and breach of trust,” the statement said.

“Tonight, Zionist Union backs the police investigators, the chief of police and all the law enforcement bodies who did not flinch from investigating a prime minister. It’s a badge of honor for all of us.”

The statement concluded, “The time has come to put an end to the culture of government corruption, which is destroying everything good in the country. After nine years of Netanyahu, the public deserves a new leadership and a clean, honest prime minister.”

Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay predicted “the end of the Netanyahu era.”

Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on January 1, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Referring to suggestions by Netanyahu that the police were not acting impartially, Gabbay said, “The prime minister and his emissaries have harmed the police and the institutions of the rule of law as nobody under investigation has done, including trying to restrict the investigators and to harm the public’s trust in the investigators.

“It is the obligation of every honest public figure to strengthen the police and institutions of law and to act to end the government under Netanyahu,” he said.

In more colorful language, MK Shelly Yachimovitch (Zionist Union), tweeted, “A corrupt tyrant with no restraint, whom the police ask to have accused of the most serious crimes of corruption, announces that he’s not going. His actions are corrupt and ugly, his behavior is violent and egocentric, he’s prepared to destroy everything so long as he survives. Go, go, corrupt man. And you, his partners, if you allow him to serve in this nightmare, then the stain of corruption will stick to you forever too.”

Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich is seen at the Knesset on October 25, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Predictably, political reactions to the police’s recommendations divided along party lines, with senior Likud MKs echoing Netanyahu’s claims that the accusations were part of an attempted putsch to bring him and his government down, and opposition lawmakers demanding that he step down.

Coalition head David Amsalem (Likud) said in a statement, “This is nothing new. The target was marked two years ago. They have fired dozens of arrows toward it in the hope that one of them will hit it, and after they have turned over every stone, in every corner of the world, the police did everything in order to reach their goal.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and coalition chairman David Amsalem converse during a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset on January 8, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“According to my understanding, we are talking about an illegitimate process that endangers every democratic country in the world. In a democratic country, the government is overturned at the ballot box and not by the army or the police.”

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (Likud) described the police recommendations as “a contemptible move to stage a government coup against the will of the voter.”

Taking to Twitter, he said it was a “disgrace” that the central witness against the prime minister should be Yair Lapid, who had been trying to replace Netanyahu for years, had lost in two elections and was now trying to take control of the government by means of untrustworthy testimony.

Israeli Minister of Tourism Yariv Levin (R) attends a House committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 6, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The truth will come to light and the government will continue to lead Israel under Netanyahu,” Levin predicted.

Lapid, it emerged on Tuesday evening, was called by police to give evidence in one of the cases against Netanyahu, the so-called Case 1000 involving businessman Arnon Milchan.

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev (Likud) said she was neither surprised nor excited by the recommendations, “which have no legal validity.” The only news was in the exposure of the true face of MK Lapid — a “failed politician,” she said, who had tried to bring down the prime minister and the government by undemocratic means.

Minister for Regional Cooperation Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) said, “I’ve known Benjamin Netanyahu for decades and believe in his honesty and innocence.”

Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi at the Knesset on July 9, 2017 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Referring to anti-corruption demonstrations which have brought thousands of people onto the streets of Tel Aviv to call for Netanyahu’s resignation, Hanegbi said, “My period serving as justice minister taught me that the state prosecution service behaves in a professional and businesslike fashion. We must let it and the attorney general arrive at their findings without inappropriate pressure, demonstrations, guillotines in the square and abusive placards. The Likud movement will continue to have faith in the prime minister and to help him lead the country.”

Ilan Gilon, of the left-wing Meretz party, tweeted that the recommendations cast a “heavy shadow” over Netanyahu, and his ability to function and make decisions. Gilon said the premier should resign so that the public’s trust in the government could be restored.

Joint (Arab) List party chairman Ayman Odeh reacts during a plenum session in the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament, January 25, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint (Arab) List said, “Netanyahu is a corrupt and dangerous prime minister and tonight he’s even more dangerous, because it’s clear that from the moment that his seat becomes unstable, he will do everything to stay in government. Netanyahu must go home.”

In Case 1000, Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from billionaire benefactors, reportedly including hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne from the Israeli-born Hollywood producer Milchan.

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.

Tuesday’s statement from the police is expected to be followed in the next few days by a more detailed explanation from the State Prosecution, which will set out each recommended charge against the prime minister.

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing and on Tuesday evening dismissed the police recommendations as unfounded.

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