Benjamin Netanyahu officially became the first sitting prime minister in Israel’s history to be indicted on Tuesday, when Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit filed an indictment with the Jerusalem District Court against him for bribery, fraud and breach of trust hours after Netanyahu withdrew his immunity request.
Mandelblit announced his final indictment on November 21, but could not file it with the courts until the immunity request process was concluded. The indictment’s filing could impact the March 2 election and alter the course of negotiations over forming a new government and who will be the new prime minister.
At press time, the could had not yet set a date for the first hearing, which could come before or after the election – at its discretion.
Sources close to Netanyahu bashed Mandelblit for filing the indictment so soon after he relinquished his immunity.
“If anyone still had doubt that the prime minister is being pursued obsessively, this is more clear, sharp proof,” a source close to Netanyahu said. “Their eagerness to file the ridiculous indictment against the prime minister is so great that they cannot even wait a single day for the historic summit in Washington that is one of the most important in the history of the state.”
The sources connected the decision to file the indictment to Mandelblit’s decision to oppose disqualifying Balad MK Heba Yazbak’s candidacy for Knesset.
“It is is not surprising that those who are struggling to allow the terror supporting Yazbak to run for Knesset and filed a shocking legal decision in favor, sprinted to file the ridiculous indictments on this historic day,” a source close to Netanyahu added.
Despite Netanyahu’s attack on Mandelblit for filing the indictment the same day that the prime minister’s immunity was withdrawn, indictments for almost every previous minister for the last few decades were filed within days of the final indictment announcement – which here would have meant the indictment being filed in late November.
The two month delay in filing the indictment came from Netanyahu’s unusual request for immunity (most ministers have not requested) and the fact that the Knesset has been out-of-session for an extended period.
Regarding MK Yazbak, Mandelblit’s legal opinion condemned statements made by the Balad MK against the IDF, but said that the law as set down by the Knesset does not permit him to ban her from running.
Hours after announcing the indictment on November 21, Mandelblit gave a speech in which he said that it was personally sad for him to indict Netanyahu, who he personally greatly admired in terms of talents, but that he was obligated by the law to do so.
The attorney-general ultimately indicted Netanyahu for bribery in Case 4000, the Bezeq-Walla! Affair, for breach of public trust in Case 1000, the Illegal Gifts Affair and for breach of public trust in Case 2000, the Yediot Ahronot-Yisrael Hayom Affair.
In Case 4000, Netanyahu is accused of involvement in a media bribery scheme in which Walla! owner Shaul Elovitch gave him positive coverage in exchange for Netanyahu making government policies favor Elovitch’s Bezeq company to the tune of around NIS 1.8 billion.
This is the hardest case for Netanyahu as he faces accusations by two close former aides turned state witnesses, Shlomo Filber and Nir Hefetz.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu is accused of receiving hundreds of thousands of shekels in gifts from rich tycoons, mostly from Arnon Milchin, in exchange for a variety of help with business and personal-legal initiatives. The charge itself is for acting in situations in which Netantahu had a conflict of interest, since no actual quid pro quo could be proven.
In Case 2000, Netanyahu was accused of working with Yediot and Yisrael Hayom to reduce Yisrael Hayom’s competition with Yediot in exchange for positive coverage for Netanyahu in Yediot. The deal never went through, but the law has crimes of attempted bribery and breach of trust which can apply even if a deal does not go through. Mandelblit was never a fan of Case 2000 but decided he needed to charge Netanyahu with something once they indicted Yediot owner Arnon Nuni Mozes with bribery.
Netanyahu withdrew his request for immunity from prosecution on Tuesday, just hours before the Knesset was scheduled to hold a vote on the request.
Netanyahu posted a letter addressed to the “Citizens of Israel” on his Facebook page announcing the decision.
“At this fateful hour for the people of Israel, while I am in the US on a historic mission to shape Israel’s permanent borders and ensure our security for future generations, another Knesset show is expected to open in the immunity circus,” he wrote. “This is the continued personal pursuit by the obsessed ‘just not Bibi’ people. Instead of understanding the size of the hour and transcending political considerations, they continue to engage in cheap politics that damage a crucial moment in the history of the state. Since I was not given due process, because all of the Knesset rules are being trampled underfoot – and since the results of the procedure were dictated in advance without a proper discussion as required – I decided not to let this dirty game go on.”
Pivoting to his impending trial, he said, “But now, I will not let my political opponents use this matter to interfere with the historical move I am leading,” he wrote. “As I have done all my life, I will continue to invest all for the future of our country and for you, the citizens of Israel.”
Netanyahu cannot request immunity from the next Knesset.
Despite Netanyahu’s decision, Blue and White did not cancel the Knesset plenum meeting the party had initiated in order to form a House Committee that could formally reject Netanyahu’s immunity request. The party decided to still form the committee, to deal with the immunity request of Likud MK Haim Katz. The proposal passed by a 60 to zero vote.
Edelstein and other coalition MKs walked out of the plenum meeting after ministers and MKs were sworn in. MKs from Labor-Gesher-Meretz and the Joint List took turns at the meeting calling upon Netanyahu to resign.
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz did not make it back in time from Washington to attend the vote. He responded to Netanyahu’s decision by saying that with Netanyahu going to trial “Israeli citizens have a clear choice: a prime minister who will work for them or a prime minister working for himself.”
Blue and White MK Yair Lapid told the Knesset plenum that “the current government only exists to handle the legal issues of the man who from today is the indicted Benjamin Netanyahu. He said Netanyahu knew his request was “ludicrous,” adding “there’s no such thing as immunity against bribery,” . “You can’t handle three criminal cases and while handling the Deal of the Century. If Netanyahu were as patriotic as he claims to be, he would have resigned by now.”
Labor-Gesher-Meretz chairman Amir Peretz told a meeting of his faction that symbolically took place outside the Supreme Court that it is “time for Netanyahu to clear the political arena, take care of his criminal affairs and leave us to worry about the immunity of those who really need it.”