Bibi indictment: “When not if”

Benjamin and Sara Netanyahu. Photo: Avi Ohayon/GPO

THE legal woes of the Netanyahu family have suddenly turned serious, after police signed up the Prime Minister’s former right-hand man as a witness.

To make matters worse for the family, Israel’s Channel 2 reported on Monday that the Attorney-General is poised to indict Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, for allegedly misusing state funds for what should have been private expenses.

The PM’s main blow in recent days was Ari Harow’s decision to testify, as part of a plea bargain that will protect him from jail time in an unrelated case. An indictment, opposition politician Ofer Shelah predicted after this news, is “no longer a question of if but when”.

Experts who have been observing Israeli politics for decades also said that Netanyahu’s fortunes may well be changing.

“There is more chance that he will be indicted than that he won’t,” Hebrew University political scientist Abraham Diskin told The AJN.

Harow, an American immigrant to Israel, has been in Bibi’s inner circle for significant periods since 2008, heading his bureau for two stints and managing the 2015 election campaign. He had Netanyahu’s ear and is widely seen as the man who can spill the beans on his dealings.

Meanwhile, Israeli police gave new details in the cases against the PM, saying that he is being investigated for fraud and breach of trust – which was already understood – as well as bribery, which is a new addition.

Opposition politicians like Shelah of Yesh Atid, Labour leader Avi Gabbay and Meretz leader Zehava Galon are already calling for Netanyahu to resign, and analysts are frantically discussing his chances of survival.

The PM has insisted he is innocent, and he made a video dismissing the legal issues as “background noise” just after Harow became the state’s witness. But a majority of Israelis – 51 per cent – don’t believe Netanyahu’s claims of innocence, according to a poll just released by Channel 10, and only 27 per cent said they do believe him.

Netanyahu could theoretically cling onto power if indicted and even charged. But the Channel 10 poll found that two out of three respondents said he should resign if indicted. Only 21 per cent thought that he could continue in his job if indicted.

The cases against Netanyahu centre around claims that he tried to use his clout to negotiate more favourable coverage in one Israeli newspaper by reining in the circulation of a competitor, and that he received inappropriate gifts from wealthy businessmen.

Harow was long ago mentioned as relevant to these cases – for example, he reportedly recorded conversations between Netanyahu and the newspaper owner he is said to have been negotiating with, Noni Mozes of Yediot Achronot.

Separate from these probes, investigations into two close Netanyahu associates are generating interest – and questions about their relationship with the PM. The associates are communications magnate Shaul Elovitch and David Shimron, Netanyahu’s personal lawyer, cousin and trusted confidant.

As The AJN went to press, Likud activists were frantically organising a Tel Aviv rally in support of the PM. The event was to be out of the ordinary, bringing together “all Likud ministers and MKs” – an unusual ask of Netanyahu at any time, especially during the summer holiday. To some commentators, this indicates just how seriously Netanyahu is taking the latest developments.

“He always repeats the same mantra, that ‘there will be nothing because there is nothing,’” said Diskin. “But the fact he’s meeting with the Likud ministers indicates that he’s under pressure and believes he is under pressure.”

NATHAN JEFFAY