WASHINGTON — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is starting to take flak from Israel’s political left for his upcoming visit with US President Donald Trump in the nation’s capital on February 15.
But it’s not because of the American president’s controversial refugee ban that has roiled the world, or Netanyahu’s tweet supporting Trump’s proposed wall on the US-Mexico border, unnecessarily injecting himself into a hotly contested partisan debate in Washington, but because of the prime minister’s own controversies back home.
Zionist Union MK Erel Margalit, who has long been a vocal critic of Netanyahu, said the premier should delay his trip until the Justice Ministry concludes its investigation into suspicions he received illicit gifts and favors from business executives.
In December, Margalit and Eldad Yaniv, a lawyer and Labor Party activist, petitioned the High Court to demand the attorney general answer why an investigation had not yet been initiated despite what they called “overwhelming evidence.” Criminal probes are now in full swing.
Margalit is challenging Netanyahu’s plans for his first meeting with the new American president, who has promised a reset to warmer ties after eight years of a contentious relationship with former president Barack Obama, who vigorously opposed Israel’s settlement policies.
“There is no more important relationship for Israel’s safety and security than the US-Israel alliance,” Margalit said in a statement. “That is why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must put our nation’s interests over what’s best for him personally and postpone his planned trip to the United States until the investigations surrounding possible corruption comes to a conclusion.”
“The US-Israel relationship is too important to send a weakened prime minster to his first meeting with the new president of the United States,” he added.
The two leaders, who have already spoken on the phone, are expected to discuss several issues, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Iranian nuclear agreement and ongoing aggression from Tehran, as well as Trump’s campaign proposal to relocate the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move he has backed away from since assuming power.
In addition to a graft probe, Netanyahu is also being investigated into suspicions of an illicit behind-the-scenes deal with Hebrew-language daily Yedioth Ahronoth’s publisher, Arnon Mozes. According to the transcripts, the prime minister was ready to curb the circulation of Yedioth’s chief competitor, the Sheldon Adelson-owned and pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom, in exchange for favorable coverage leading up to the 2015 election.
“Until these corruption investigations are completed and Prime Minister Netanyahu is no longer under the threat of indictment, he should stay in Israel to fully cooperate with the authorities and ensure that there is no obstruction of justice,” Margalit said.