Israel Police call for Netanyahu indictment

Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Marc Israel Sellem/JTA

BENJAMIN Netanyahu should face trial for securing better press in return for political favours, Israel Police has recommended.

In the bombshell announcement this week, police said that Netanyahu is suspected of getting a leading news site to give him more flattering coverage, by giving its owners a boost with state regulators.

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni immediately called for the PM’s resignation. “Netanyahu needs to go,” she said. “Early elections now.” Her political ally Avi Gabbay, leader of the Zionist Union party, said, “Netanyahu has become a burden on Israel. He must resign.”

Tamar Zandberg, leader of Meretz, said that Netanyahu has “no moral or public mandate to sit in his chair and must resign today,” while Yes Atid’s Yair Lapid argued that he can’t give his job proper attention while embroiled in scandal. “Israel deserves better,” said Lapid.

Some experts say that even if the latest recommendation doesn’t unseat Netanyahu now, it could make it hard for him to successfully fight elections, which he must do in the next year.

Chaim Weizmann, a political scientist at the Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya, told The AJN, “After an election, politicians from other parties may find themselves asking if they want to go in to a government with someone who has this hanging over them.”

The electoral system in Israel means that even if Netanyahu fares well at the polls, if other politicians don’t want to build a coalition with him, he could end up in opposition.

Police outlined their suspicions in a statement, saying that Netanyahu “intervened in a blatant and ongoing manner, and sometimes even daily,” in content published by the Walla news site. The police announcement also suggested that the PM “sought to influence the appointment of senior staff” at Walla.

He allegedly did this to “promote his personal interests by publishing flattering articles and pictures, removing critical content about the PM and his family”.

This was happening in the context of a “bribery relationship” between Netanyahu and the news site’s owners, Bezeq and its controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch.

As he was allegedly improving his press, Netanyahu was also allegedly getting involved in regulatory decisions impacting the site’s owners, Bezeq and its head Shaul Elovitch. Police say that he acted to help along the merger of Bezeq and satellite television company Yes.

The dramatic eight-month investigation, which saw 13 suspects interrogated, two of whom agreed to give evidence against Netanyahu, ended with a recommendation that the PM is indicted for taking bribes, fraud and breach of trust. Police also recommended that several others are indicted on similar charges, including the PM’s wife Sara.

Netanyahu hit back at police, declaring that their recommendation has “no legal status” and claimed to be confident that it won’t lead to indictment.

But the recommendation adds to his growing lost of legal woes. Police have already recommended indictment in two other cases against him, one alleging that he received inappropriate gifts and one alleging that he tried to cut an inappropriate deal to improve his image in the Yediot Achronot newspaper.

“It looks like the police have kept the strongest card up their sleeves and pulled it out only now,” Weizmann said.

NATHAN JEFFAY