Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be indicted on bribery and breach of trust charges arising from three separate corruption investigations.
The charges are currently pending a hearing, Israel’s attorney general announced on the evening of 28 February.
Over the past year, as investigations into Netanyahu’s alleged crimes trekked on, Netanyahu repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, denouncing the investigations as a media-led witch hunt. In a prime time broadcast shortly after the announcement of indictment, Netanyahu blamed the Israeli left for pressuring Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit —ironically, a Netanyahu appointee— to issue the decision.
While there are three distinct investigations into Netanyahu’s affairs, the main charges are part of the so-called “Case 4000.” This case has two elements.
First is the accusation that several years ago the prime minister fired the Communications Ministry figurehead and replaced him with his own loyalist and ex-campaign manager Shlomo Filber in order to ensure a government policy that improperly favored another ally Shaul Elovitch, owner of Israel’s biggest telecommunications company, Bezeq. The second element is a bit more scandalous. The claim is that in exchange for favorable government policies toward his industry, Elovitch was ordered by Netanyahu to produce favorable coverage on him and his party on the Bezeq-owned media outlet Walla. If true, this would indeed constitute outright bribery.
As pointed out by observers in Israel, the damning accusations are far from proven. Two points are worth considering: The “favorable government policies” in question, the ones Netanyahu’s Communications Ministry put forth, were approved by a panel of apolitical experts and were not only the result of a government decision. Additionally, and more to the point, far from being a bastion of pro-Netanyahu propaganda, the Walla news outlet has been, and still is currently, demonstrably hostile to the prime minister and his policies. In fact, Walla’s bias against Netanyahu came to a peak during the last national elections in 2015—which Netanyahu still won.
Far From Clear-Cut
Many in Israel and in the international community share the prime minister’s sentiments that the whole indictment is a sham. Prominent U.S. attorney professor Alan Dershowitz, for example, published an open letter defending Netanyahu. It is worth noting that the left-leaning Dershowitz could hardly be considered a political ally of the prime minister.
The timing of the indictment, less than two months from the next election, could not have been more perfect for Netanyahu’s opponents. The court proceedings on the prime minister will certainly add a unique element to the campaign season.