'We will accept the court's decisions'

PM: ‘No question’ I’ll accept court ruling, but investigators must be probed too

Netanyahu says only the public will decide who will be premier, urges Israelis to attend pro-Likud rally against conduct of police and prosecution

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses his supporters in a video statement on November 22, 2019. (Screen capture/Facebook)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses his supporters in a video statement on November 22, 2019. (Screen capture/Facebook)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday that he would ultimately accept the court’s decision in the legal cases against him, but continued to try and undermine the legitimacy of the corruption charges announced against him.

“Of course, I want to make clear that this whole process will ultimately be decided in court. We will accept the court’s decisions — regarding this there is no question,” Netanyahu said in a video posted to his Facebook page a day after claiming that police and state prosecutors were attempting a “coup” to remove him from power through fabricated indictments.

However, Netanyahu again reiterated his assertion that the decision to indict him had been reached by illegal means.

“We will always act within the confines of the law, but this means that those who have not done so in the police or in the state prosecutor’s office must be probed. They must be taken care of, and there must be a correction made,” the prime minister continued.

Supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chant slogans and hold up signs in support of him during a counter-rally outside the Likud party headquaters in the coastal Mediterranean city of Tel Aviv on November 22, 2019, as Labour Party supporters demonstrate against him nearby. (Jack Guez/AFP)

“I want to make clear, those who choose the Prime Minister of Israel are the citizens,” Netanyahu added, thanking his supporters for standing by him and urging them to attend a rally on Tuesday in Tel Aviv, which organizers say they plan to further demonstrate their support for the premier.

“We currently have before us historic opportunities such as annexing the Jordan Valley, maintaining our security, building alliances with our neighbors and many things that must not be missed,” he said.

Still, his public acknowledgement that he will ultimately accept the court’s ruling appeared to be a step back.

Earlier Friday, citing Likud officials, the Ynet news site said Netanyahu intends to “wage war” against the indictment and seek to delegitimize the judicial system.

It also quoted political sources saying Netanyahu was planning to place the charges at the center of his campaign for the expected elections in March.

In a fiery speech Thursday after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced his decision to indict Netanyahu in three corruption cases, the prime minister claimed the entire probe against him had been “tainted.”

In this Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019 photo, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during an extended faction meeting of his right-wing/ultra-Orthodox bloc members at the Knesset (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

“This tainted process raises questions among the public about the police’s investigations and the prosecution. The public has lost trust in these institutions. It’s a process that’s taken place over many years. This is selective enforcement on steroids. It’s enforcement just for me.”

Netanyahu listed a litany of complaints about the conduct of the investigation, charging: “These facts emphasize how much this process is tainted. It’s meant to topple a right-wing prime minister, me. I, who unlike the left and the slanted media, want to institute a free market, not only in the economy but also a free market of ideas, who wants to see a strong country, not a weak, shrunken, bowed country.”

He called to establish an independent commission to investigate the conduct of investigators in his cases.

“It’s time to investigate the investigators, to investigate the prosecution that approves these tainted investigations. I respect the police, I respect the prosecutors. There are hundreds of them. But we have to understand that they’re not above criticism. This isn’t just about transparency, it’s about accountability.”

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit holds a press conference at the Ministry of Justice in Jerusalem, announcing his decision that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will stand trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three different corruption cases, dubbed by police Case 1000, Case 2000 and Case 4000. November 21, 2019. (Hadas Parush/FLASH90)

Mandelblit’s decision marked the first time in Israel’s history that a serving prime minister faces criminal charges, casting a heavy shadow over Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, and his ongoing attempts to remain in power.

The announcement did not include the official filing of an indictment, as the Knesset must first decide on lifting Netanyahu’s procedural immunity, a process that — due to the current political gridlock and the lack of a functioning government — could drag on for months.

Mandelblit, in a rare address to the media announcing his decision, called it “a difficult and sad day” and said his ruling was made “with a heavy heart but also with a whole heart.

“Law enforcement isn’t optional. It’s not a question of politics. It’s a duty incumbent upon us…. We were not swayed by slander from all sides, and acted only to enforce the law,” Mandelblit said, referring to criticism from Netanyahu supporters who have accused prosecutors of conducting a witch hunt to unseat the prime minister.

He called the accusations “dangerous” and said they were “playing with fire. It must stop. I call on everyone, first and foremost the leaders of the state, you must distance yourself from discourse that threatens law enforcement officials. We’re not infallible or above criticism. But we acted without fear or prejudice, for the rule of law.”

Israeli law only requires that a prime minister step down if convicted, but experts have suggested that Netanyahu could have a “problem” if he seeks to stay in office after the formal indictment is filed. Under law and High Court of Justice precedent, ministers other than the prime minister are required to step down in such a situation. There is no clear legal rule regarding the prime minister.

However, Hebrew media reported Thursday that Mandelblit may soon be required to rule on whether Netanyahu, as a person under indictment, was at all eligible to form a new government.

According to the Globes newspaper, State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan believes that even if Netanyahu is not legally required to vacate his post, as in the case of a minister under indictment, he cannot begin a new term with the charges hanging over him.

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