Israeli leader vows to carry on despite bribe scandal
JERUSALEM •IsraeliPrime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to carry on Wednesday after police recommended indicting him on corruption charges, angrily dismissing the allegations and the critics calling on him to step down.
With his coalition partners dutifully lining up behind him, the longtime leader readied himself for a prolonged battle over his political legitimacy as the attorney general considers whether to ultimately press charges.
The police announcement that Netanyahu’s acceptance of nearly $300,000 in gifts from two billionaires amounted to bribery sent shock waves through the Israeli political system and delivered a humiliating blow to Netanyahu after years of allegations and investigations.
But it did not appear to immediately threaten his rule as reaction largely fell along partisan lines. Nearly all of Netanyahu’s cabinet ministers issued statements of support and his coalition partners all signalled they would stick by him, for now.
“Let me reassure you: the coalition is stable. No one, not I and no one else, plans to go to elections. We will continue to work together with you for the people of Israel until the end of our term,” he said to a gathering of local government officials in Tel Aviv. “After I read the recommendations report, I can say it is biased, extreme, full of holes like Swiss cheese and doesn’t hold water.”
In an impassioned defence, Netanyahu took aim at police investigators saying their figures were vastly inflated and tried “to create a false impression of exchanges that never existed.”
Though he is not legally compelled to resign, several opposition figures called on Netanyahu to do so to avoid corrupting the office further.
Under similar circumstances a decade ago Netanyahu, then the opposition leader, urged then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to resign after police recommended he be indicted, saying a leader “sunk up to his neck in interrogations” could not govern properly.
In contrast to Olmert, who eventually stepped down and was convicted and imprisoned, Netanyahu is still relatively popular with the public and enjoys broad political support in his Likud party and among coalition partners — nearly all of whom stand to lose power if elections were held today.
The only crack in the wallto-wall support came from Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the nationalistic Jewish Home party, who said Netanyahu could keep serving but was “not living up to the standard” expected of his office.