Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is back in the news today — speaking at the Munich Security conference, he produced and brandished what he said was the charred section of an Iranian drone that had incurred into Israeli airspace and been blown to pieces for its trouble. One thing we’re sure that doesn’t represent, is empty tough-guy posturing aimed at distracting from the other major story concerning him: the fact that last week Israeli police recommended he be indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust relating to two cases.
Benjamin Netanyahu has been in Israeli political leadership roles for over 20 years. He was first elected as Prime Minister of the right-wing Likud Party in 1996. His fortunes have been up and down since then, but he remains almost certainly the most influential Israeli politician of his generation, having served four terms as Prime Minister.
What are the allegations?
In case 1000, he is accused of accepting bribes from two businessmen. Prolific Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan — producer or executive producer on films as diverse as 12 Years A Slave, Gone Girl and Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked — and our very own James Packer (who is said to have given gifts totaling more than $88,000) collectively gave $380,000 in gifts to Netanyahu between 2007 and 2016. The gifts were received while Packer sought permanent residency, and attendant tax status in Israel, while reportedly, Netanyahu assisted Milchan in his application for a 10-year US visa by lobbying John Kerry.
In case 2000, he’s accused of attempting to strike a deal with Israeli’s second biggest newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, for favorable coverage, with publisher Arnon Mozes allegedly offering to hire journalists of Netanyahu’s choosing, in return for Netanyahu promoting laws that would end the free distributions of Ahronoth’s rival Israel Hayom.
In response, Netanyahu has not denied receiving the gifts, but does deny he provided Milchan or Packer with any favours, and has said he never intended to seal a deal with Ahronoth.
Mixing metaphors like a verbal NutriBullet, Netanyahu has said the report was “a biased, extreme document full of holes, like Swiss cheese, and doesn’t hold water”. He has also vowed to “continue to lead the state of Israel responsibly and loyally as long as you, the citizens of Israel, choose me to lead you”.
What happens next?
It is not certain Netanyahu will be charged, nor does he have to resign. The Israeli police can only recommend that he be indicted, while the final decision on whether charges are pressed rests with Israel’s Attorney-General, Avichai Mandelblit — a decision that could take months. This brings with it its own controversy, with Mandelbilt widely considered a loyal ally of the Prime Minister (he previously worked as Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary, before being promoted to AG by, well, Netanyahu).
Has Netanyahu been accused of this before?
Over his 20 years in political life, similar corruption charges have surfaced against Netanyahu twice before. In 1997, during his first term, police wanted him indicted for influence-peddling, after allegedly appointed an attorney-general in who would reduce pending charges against his political ally Aryeh Deri. Charges were not pursued due to lack of evidence.
In 2000, Israeli police recommended that he and his wife Sara be indicted for illegally receiving more $100,000 worth of free work from a a private building contractor who had anticipated of political favors in return, but who later tried to bill the state. The charges were eventually dropped because of “difficulties with the evidence” but then-attorney-general Elyakim Rubinstein still described the arrangement as “improper” in his report.