On Thursday, Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced that his office would be formally indicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on one count of bribery and two counts of fraud and breach of trust. The indictments pertain to three different cases that spanned two years of investigations.
The timing of the indictments gives off the perception of potential political motivation — Israel will hold national elections on April 9, and Netanyahu is currently triangulating an episode of turmoil and pushback that has followed his controversial decision to welcome fringe party Otzma Yehudit into his possible Right-of-center governing coalition.
Fox News reports:
The indictments are subject to a hearing, and marks the first time in Israeli history that a sitting prime minister has been charged with a crime. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert served time in prison for corruption, but had already resigned by the time he was charged.
Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing and calls the various allegations a media-orchestrated witch hunt aimed at removing him from office. He has vowed to carry on and is deadlocked in the polls ahead of national elections on April 9.
“The Left is on a hunting spree against me,” Netanyahu said Thursday, adding that the accusations are a political ploy because “they know they can’t defeat me at the ballot.”
Netanyahu expressly accused Mandelblit of engaging in a “political witch hunt,” and called the timing of the announcements “scandalous.”
CNN explains how the legal process in Israel will unfold for Netanyahu:
Netanyahu is entitled to a hearing on the impending indictment before charges are formally laid, but that is not expected to take place until long after the election. Under Israeli law, Netanyahu is not required to step down if he is indicted. He is only required to step down if he is convicted and that conviction is upheld through the appeals process, which could take years.
Due to the longstanding nature of Mandelblit’s investigations, as long as the common perception that Mandelblit harbors Left-of-center political proclivities that cut in favor of Israel’s political establishment and cut against Netanyahu’s continued national leadership, the indictment’s timing near the Israeli election was expected by many.
But that did not stop Netanyahu’s political challengers from glomming onto the announcement to advance a self-interested political message. CNN continued:
Netanyahu’s main challenger in the upcoming elections, former military Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, called on him to resign after the attorney general’s announcement.
“Because of the circumstances which have arisen, sitting [in a future government] with Benjamin Netanyahu is not something which is on the table,” Gantz said Thursday evening in response to Netanyahu’s statement.
In what will remind many American political observers of their own present imbroglio with respect to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, there are numerous legal intricacies in Israel pertaining to whether or not Mandelblit has legitimate prosecutorial authority vis-à-vis Prime Minister Netanyahu. But many Israeli conservatives have long expected Israel’s political and legal establishment to ultimately support Mandelblit’s anti-Netanyahu crusade. For example, the conservative Israeli columnist Caroline Glick wrote in December:
Mandelblit knows he will get away with ignoring the law [because] he is supported in his efforts by his partners in the Supreme Court. For the past generation, the Supreme Court has enacted a judicial revolution under which it has seized the power to overturn laws and government decisions. In his seizure of power from the government, Mandelblit works as an adjunct of the Supreme Court. And the Court largely backs him in his efforts.
[Another] reason that Mandelblit can act in a grossly unconstitutional way is because the legal adviser to the government is also the head of the state prosecution. Mandelblit can indict anyone he wants, and everyone knows it. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu — or any prime minister for that matter — knows that if he tries to force Mandelblit to act legally — or conversely, fires Mandelblit for acting unlawfully — he will be crucified. The media, the political opposition, and in all likelihood the police will accuse him of corruption. The prime minister, they will say, is a criminal suspect: He fired Mandelblit because Mandelblit intended to indict him.