PM lobbies right-wing rabbis for backing amid corruption probes

PM lobbies right-wing rabbis for backing amid corruption probes

While some prominent religious leaders express support for Netanyahu, others reportedly frustrated over stalled settlement building

Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Rabbi Haim Druckman at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on February 8, 2012. (Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)
Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Rabbi Haim Druckman at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on February 8, 2012. (Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with a group of prominent national religious rabbis on Tuesday to request their support as he battles corruption allegations.

During the meeting, Netanyahu referenced the weekly anti-corruption protests in Tel Aviv calling for his resignation, saying they were part of a broader effort to topple him.

“There is a political effort, using demonstrations and other means, to topple the nationalist government headed by us that looks out for the land of Israel and fights for it,” Hebrew media reports quoted Netanyahu as saying.

The prime minister is currently being investigated in two criminal investigations involving suspicions he accepted gifts and favors from businessmen in exchange for advancing their interests. Police are expected to submit their recommendations in the cases in the coming weeks.

While a number of rabbis voiced their support for Netanyahu and dismissed the corruption allegations, others were more critical of the premier.

“[Netanyahu] always calls the [rabbis] when he’s in trouble, but when [they] need him he disappears,” the Haaretz newspaper quoted an unnamed rabbi as saying.

The rabbis also raised a number of issues they want to see addressed, among them preventing the integration of women in military combat units and stepped-up construction in West Bank settlements, the daily reported.

Among the rabbis attending the meeting were Haim Druckman, David Stav, Eli Sadan, Elyakim Levanon, Yoel Bin-Nun, Yaakov Shapira, and Dovid Fendel.

One notable absence was Rabbi Zalman Melamed, the founder of the pro-settlement Arutz Sheva news site, who Haaretz said didn’t want to feel “used” by Netanyahu.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, seen with Education Minister Naftali Bennett at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on August 30, 2016. (Emil Salman/Pool)

The national religious community is usually identified with the pro-settlement Jewish Home party, with which Netanyahu’s Likud competes for the support of right-wing voters.

According to Haaretz, Netanyahu personally thanked Druckman for speaking out against a right-wing anti-corruption rally in Jerusalem over the weekend.

That demonstration, which drew just a few hundred people, was organized by right-wing columnist Yoaz Hendel, Netanyahu’s former communications director and current chair of the centrist Institute for Zionist Strategies think-tank.

The demonstration came after nearly a year of anti-corruption demonstrations held in Petah Tikva and Tel Aviv, primarily organized and backed by left-leaning groups and opposition lawmakers, and follows a vehement attack last week by Netanyahu against the Israel Police and their expected recommendation to indict him.

Hendel said he felt uncomfortable with the Tel Aviv protests that identified with Israel’s political left.

The latest protests were inspired by a coalition push for legislation which would block police investigators from informing prosecutors whether they believe there are grounds for indictment in investigations of public officials and from publicizing information or leaking conclusions to the media.

The Knesset began a marathon session early Tuesday morning to pass the bill in its final readings. The session is expected to last several days due to an opposition filibuster.

According to Hebrew reports, police are planning on recommending within the next few weeks that Netanyahu stand trial in two criminal cases currently open against him.

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 both cases.

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