Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 July 2019

Benjamin Netanyahu's populist gambit for corruption head-to-head falls flat

The Israeli leader’s ‘dramatic announcement’ was to call for a live showdown with his accusers

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivering a statement live at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem on Monday. AFP
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivering a statement live at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem on Monday. AFP

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s televised address late on Monday to call for a live head-to-head debate with his corruption accusers has been widely criticised after he kept Israelis hanging for three hours with the promise of a “dramatic announcement”.

Instead, he used his "announcement" to contest corruption claims that threaten to end his tenure before he can become Israel’s longest serving Prime Minister by lasting to the end of the year.

Early elections have been called for April 9 and Israel’s attorney general is reportedly considering an indictment for Mr Netanyahu before the ballot.

He said that he had demanded that Israeli police allow him to “confront” former allies who have now switched sides and testified against him, giving evidence in several corruption cases that have dogged him for the past year.

“Tonight I reveal to you that during the investigations against me, I demanded a confrontation with the state witnesses,” he said. He complained about those requests being rejected.

“What are they afraid of? I’m not afraid. I have nothing to lose,” the Israeli leader said. “I’m willing for it to be live-streamed for the public to hear the full truth. I’m confident in my truth.” He said the investigation against him as biased.

He also claimed that key witnesses who could refute the allegations against him were not called.

But the speech was widely derided, with an Israeli broadcaster shutting off his speech halfway through, and Israelis lambasting his use of a prime-time platform to try to swing public opinion on the corruption allegations levelled against him. Many had waited for a major security or diplomatic announcement.

The chief correspondent for Israel’s Channel 10 called the speech “chutzpah”, while left-leaning Haaretz newspaper said that Mr Netanyahu should be banned from television before the election, calling the address a “disaster for truth, statesmanship and proper governance”.

Israeli police have recommended charges in three corruption cases against Mr Netanyahu. Police have alleged that he granted regulatory favours to Israel's leading telecoms company, Bezeq Telecom Israel, in return for more positive coverage on a news website belonging to the company's owner.

In a second case, police contend that Mr Netanyahu received expensive gifts from wealthy friends. A third investigation focuses on suspicions that Mr Netanyahu negotiated a deal with one newspaper for more positive coverage in return for promises to back legislation that would have limited the circulation of a rival.

He called an early vote in an apparent bid to avoid an indictment before he can win a popular mandate from the Israeli public.

That move may yet backfire as Avichai Mandelblit considers an early indictment to be in the best interests of the Israeli public. Mr Netanyahu has said he will not resign in the event that an indictment is issued against him.

Should he decide on an indictment, the attorney general would, under Israeli law, then hold a hearing with Mr Netanyahu in which the prime minister and his lawyers could make their case against filing charges in court.

There has been mounting speculation in Israel that a decision on the charges will be announced in the next few weeks, before election day.

Israel’s Justice Ministry said all of the work carried out in the cases relating to Mr Netanyahu were done so “professionally and thoroughly”.

“Examination of the findings of the investigation are currently being conducted by the attorney general, the state attorney and their staff as part of an orderly and professional work process that should not be conducted in the media,” the ministry said.

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Updated: January 8, 2019 02:46 PM

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