PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during question time at the Knesset yesterday.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
It was political theater at its best on Wednesday as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended his second question hour at the Knesset. A boastful Netanyahu didn’t miss a beat when interrogated over a myriad of topics including relations with the Arab sector, the Comptroller’s Report on the 2014 Gaza war, settlement building and his relations with the new Trump administration.
Although Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein warned MKs that the prime minister would not answer questions that did not address his professional performance, such as those regarding hypothetical queries, abstract legal issues and personal affairs, most opposition lawmakers asked about the ongoing investigations into the prime minister and their consequences. As the session came to a close, Netanyahu decided to address these questions all at once.
“I have heard rumors of contacts [between parties], taking apart the cabinet, defiance.
What a celebration of hypocrisy, a carnival of righteousness,” said Netanyahu.
“They came to close the only media outlet that takes a different stance [Israel Hayom],” he said, referring to Meretz MK Michal Rozin’s question about why he dismantled the government in December 2014 and went to elections.
“I saw that they [coalition partners] were undermining me in some areas and also trying to silence a media outlet that does not align with the mainstream. At that point, I decided to fire [the ministers] and dismiss the cabinet,” he said, referring to the controversial 2014 Israel Hayom bill, which was intended to shut down the popular Sheldon Adelson-run daily.
“During that campaign, my family and I suffered daily attacks from Yediot Aharonot and every hour from Ynet.
After we won the election, I insisted that the coalition agreements include restriction of resubmitting the Israel Hayom bill... There is no one who fought harder against that bill stronger than I did, and I am the one who is being investigated [regarding an alleged conspiracy to harm Israel Hayom]? I am to blame? This is a bad joke. Before they question me they should question the 43 MKs who voted in favor of the bill and [as a result] got good coverage from [Yediot Aharonot publisher Arnon] Noni Mozes.”
“The hypocrisy is running wild,” Netanyahu added.
“Their goal is to topple the Likud government under my leadership and in order to do so all means are valid.”
“We can see it also in the ‘gifts affair’ [Case 1000]. One rule for Netanyahu and one rule for the rest. It is legal to receive gifts. If they give you presents, they are not your friends, [they say].”
His defense fell on deaf ears.
Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog called for Netanyahu to step down, “The biggest gift you can give the Israeli people is that you lay down the keys and resign,” said Herzog. “You might be ‘strong against Hamas’ but not against Knesset members asking questions.
You are in a direct conflict of interest and cannot continue as communications minister. We never voted on changing the norms of the State of Israel. You are the one who corrupted the ethics of the state, and I am surprised that the coalition member do not see that.”
Meanwhile on Wednesday, Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett declared that, if the prime minister were forced to leave office due to the investigations against him, he would not support any other government under the current Knesset.
His comments may make it less likely that senior Likud politicians will try to force Netanyahu to step down.
Also on Wednesday, the High Court of Justice ordered that Netanyahu file a response by March 1 to a petition to the court requesting that it demand the attorney-general open a full-fledged investigation into “Case 3000.”
This case relates to suspicions of a conflict of interest over the acquisition of submarines and naval corvettes from the German ship builder ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, whose legal representative in Israel is the prime minister’s cousin and personal attorney David Shimron.
Shimron was also a director of a firm advising ThyssenKrupp in 2013, Haaretz reported.
The police have opened an examination into the case, regarding which Netanyahu and former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon have been questioned, although a full-fledged criminal investigation has not been opened.
Earlier this month, Zionist Union MK Erel Margalit filed a petition to the High Court, signed by almost 20,000 members of the public, requesting that the court demand the attorney-general open an investigation into Netanyahu for his part in the affair.
“Just like the other examinations became full investigations due to public pressure, the same will happen in this case,” Margalit said following the court’s decision, adding that “it would be better for the attorney-general” to open the investigation on his own rather than being forced to do so by the High Court.
“It’s unthinkable that such grave suspicions will be covered by ‘an examination’ and not a full investigation.
Every moment that this corrupt deal remains under an examination only allows suspects to obstruct the investigation and [tamper with] evidence.”