Ne­tanyahu’s le­gal scan­dals threaten rule

Cor­rup­tion probe near­ing Is­raeli leader

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY LAURA KELLY

Af­ter 11 years run­ning the re­gion’s most pow­er­ful and eco­nom­i­cally dy­namic na­tion, the reign of Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu has suf­fered a ma­jor blow in re­cent days as mount­ing le­gal pres­sure en­velop­ing him, his wife and close as­so­ciates on charges of cor­rup­tion and fraud have some Is­raelis pon­der­ing the prospect of a postNe­tanyahu fu­ture.

Mul­ti­ple con­spir­a­to­rial cases of le­gal scan­dals in­volv­ing the Ne­tanyahus have gone from back­ground noise to the fore­front in the past few days since in­ves­ti­ga­tions in four cases be­gan months — or even years — ago.

The com­bat­ive, con­ser­va­tive Mr. Ne­tanyahu is one of the world’s long­est-serv­ing lead­ers and has se­cured his grip on power do­mes­ti­cally, unit­ing a coali­tion gov­ern­ment and a na­tion be­hind his vi­sion of a se­cure and pros­per­ous Is­rael that is not shy about press­ing its own na­tional in­ter­ests.

Nei­ther war nor ter­ror­ism has threat­ened his power — they may ac­tu­ally have strength­ened it — but his sin­gle-minded de­sire to re­tain and strengthen his power and in­flu­ence by any means may now threaten to ini­ti­ate his down­fall.

“The sus­pi­cions of cor­rup­tion against [the prime

min­is­ter] are reach­ing a crit­i­cal mass, cast­ing a pall over his con­tin­ued ten­ure in of­fice,” the Is­raeli news­pa­per Haaretz, a fre­quent critic of Mr. Ne­tanyahu, wrote in its lead edi­to­rial Mon­day.

Is­raeli law en­force­ment and of­fi­cials are near­ing a po­ten­tial in­dict­ment against the prime min­is­ter, and de­spite no law in the coun­try com­pelling his res­ig­na­tion, pub­lic pres­sure could force Mr. Ne­tanyahu to step down as premier, ini­ti­ate a shake-up among his Likud party and pos­si­bly send the coun­try to early elec­tions.

In light of re­cent de­vel­op­ments — most notably Mr. Ne­tanyahu’s former chief of staff, Ari Harow, turn­ing state wit­ness in cor­rup­tion cases against the prime min­is­ter — Likud party mem­bers have ex­pressed sup­port for the prime min­is­ter and even an­nounced a rally for Mr. Ne­tanyahu to be held in the com­ing days.

Mr. Ne­tanyahu has ve­he­mently de­nied the charges against him, post­ing a state­ment on his pub­lic Face­book page con­demn­ing the al­le­ga­tions and say­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is doomed.

“There will be noth­ing, be­cause there was noth­ing,” the post read in He­brew.

If pub­lic pres­sure mounts, Mr. Ne­tanyahu could of­fer to step down amid the con­tro­versy, lead­ing to po­lit­i­cal jock­ey­ing in his own party for who would suc­ceed him as prime min­is­ter. Gi­lad Er­dan, the pub­lic se­cu­rity and in­for­ma­tion min­is­ter, is the sec­ond in the Likud hi­er­ar­chy.

An­other sce­nario is the gov­ern­ment could move to­ward a vote of no con­fi­dence in Novem­ber, when law­mak­ers re­turn from an ex­tended sum­mer re­cess, po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Gil Hoffman wrote in The Jerusalem Post. That could set into mo­tion early elec­tions for 2018, a year ahead of sched­ule.

The fall of Mr. Ne­tanyahu would also pro­vide an open­ing for the lead­ers of main po­lit­i­cal ide­olo­gies fight­ing against the en­trenched es­tab­lish­ment and one an­other.

These in­clude Naf­tali Ben­net of the right-wing Jewish Home party, Yair Lapid of the cen­trist Yesh Atid party and Avi Gabby, who would rep­re­sent the joint left-wing Zion­ist Union, a coali­tion be­tween Is­rael’s left-wing La­bor Party and the smaller “Move­ment” party led by former For­eign Min­is­ter Tzipi Livni.

With the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian peace process stalled and gains made be­tween Mr. Ne­tanyahu’s gov­ern­ment and the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity and Jor­dan on wa­ter and elec­tric­ity is­sues, the Is­raeli pub­lic could con­tinue to fa­vor the con­ser­va­tives, elect­ing par­ties that put se­cu­rity first and ex­pand, or at least fur­ther le­git­imize, Is­raeli set­tle­ments in the West Bank.

Scan­dals gain­ing trac­tion

Among the le­gal scan­dals gain­ing trac­tion, lo­cal me­dia re­ported Mon­day that the Is­raeli at­tor­ney gen­eral will seek an in­dict­ment against the prime min­is­ter’s wife, Sarah Ne­tanyahu, in a case in­volv­ing ques­tions over the use of gov­ern­ment funds amount­ing to tens of thou­sands of dol­lars.

Also on Mon­day, the Supreme Court ruled in fa­vor of an Is­raeli in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist in a law­suit filed against the prime min­is­ter’s of­fice over the re­fusal to re­lease call logs be­tween Mr. Ne­tanyahu and Amer­i­can bil­lion­aire busi­ness­man Shel­don Adel­son, who is a close friend of the prime min­is­ter.

“The pub­lic in­ter­est in re­veal­ing the in­for­ma­tion over­rides the right to pri­vacy,” the lead judge in the case wrote in the de­ci­sion, as re­ported by Haaretz.

Mr. Adel­son is the owner of the free daily news­pa­per Is­rael Hayom, gen­er­ally re­garded as pro-Ne­tanyahu and the sub­ject of a de­bate in the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment of whether or not the pa­per should be al­lowed to be dis­trib­uted for free. This de­bate also finds it­self among the de­tails of the Case 2000, an in­ves­ti­ga­tion against Mr. Ne­tanyahu into charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Last week, po­lice re­quested a gag order on de­tails of their ef­forts to re­cruit Mr. Harow as a state wit­ness. In the gag order re­quest, Is­rael po­lice didn’t men­tion Mr. Ne­tanyahu by name as a sus­pect, but did say that Mr. Harow’s state­ments would be used in both cases and for the first time named the ex­plicit charges.

“This is the first time po­lice men­tioned the ac­tual of­fense,” said Tal Sch­nei­der, a lead­ing Is­raeli po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor and jour­nal­ist. “The name of the prime min­ster wasn’t on the war­rant, but be­cause in one of those cases he is the only sus­pect, peo­ple im­me­di­ately un­der­stood that bribery refers to him.”

Mr. Ne­tanyahu is em­broiled in two in­ves­ti­ga­tions that al­lege he di­rectly re­ceived bribes in ex­change for po­lit­i­cal fa­vors. The first case charges he and his wife ac­cepted lav­ish gifts in re­turn for fa­vors. The charges in­clude gifts in­clud­ing cigars, cham­pagne and jewelry from such fig­ures as Hol­ly­wood film pro­ducer Arnon Milchan and Aus­tralian bil­lion­aire James Packer.

The sec­ond case in­volves al­leged deal­ings be­tween Mr. Ne­tanyahu and Is­raeli pub­lisher Arnon Mozes. In ex­change for fair or pos­i­tive cov­er­age in Mr. Mozes’ news­pa­per, the case al­leges, the prime min­is­ter would sup­port leg­is­la­tion that would curb the dis­tri­bu­tion of the free news­pa­per Is­rael Hayom, which is owned by Mr. Adel­son.

It was re­ported that Mr. Harow of­fered him­self as a state wit­ness in ex­change for a lighter sen­tence in his own court case that charged his busi­ness and fi­nan­cial deal­ings ben­e­fited from his po­si­tion with the prime min­is­ter.

The gag order, in place un­til Sept. 17, pre­vents the press from re­port­ing on de­tails pro­vided by Mr. Harow, which in­clude po­ten­tial au­dio­tape record­ings of meet­ings be­tween Mr. Ne­tanyahu and Mr. Mozes.

The ex­is­tence of such tapes came to pub­lic light in Jan­uary, first re­ported by Is­rael’s Chan­nel 2 in­ves­tiga­tive pro­gram. The leaked tapes al­legedly record Mr. Ne­tanyahu and Mr. Mozes dis­cussing fa­vor­able cov­er­age in ex­change for reign­ing in Is­rael Hayom. Po­lice re­port­edly took the au­dio from the cell­phone and com­puter of Mr. Harow.

More de­tails of the ev­i­dence in the cases against Mr. Ne­tanyahu would be made avail­able with the is­suance of an in­dict­ment, which could take place shortly af­ter the gag order lifts.

“Once the at­tor­ney gen­eral lays down an in­dict­ment, he has to pro­vide the facts,” Ms. Sch­nei­der said. “This is to­tally dif­fer­ent, be­cause then the pub­lic can read what­ever the prime min­is­ter is fac­ing, and I think that once you see an in­dict­ment, this will cause a pub­lic out­rage and pub­lic shock.”


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