Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits Entebbe, Uganda.
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in the midst of a whirlwind tour of Africa, trouble may be brewing at home.
Police and the State Attorney’s Office are investigating allegations that Netanyahu illegally received funds from foreign businessmen during his current tenure as premier, which began in 2009, Channel 2 reported.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has been holding intensive meetings regarding accusations directed against Netanyahu, according to Haaretz.
Still, it is unclear whether this preliminary probe will lead to a full-blown police investigation.
Probes of Isaac Herzog, chairman of the Zionist Union and head of the opposition, and of Arye Deri, the head of Shas, led to nothing despite the extensive media attention – including projections of the imminent demise of their political careers. And, even if the allegations have some truth, their severity seems, at this stage at least, to be lesser than the bribery charges that ended Ehud Olmert’s tenure as prime minister.
Nevertheless, if it turns out that Channel 2’s report is accurate and Netanyahu comes under investigation, we call on the attorney-general to conduct a speedy and thorough probe – with an emphasis on speedy. The nation must not be subjected to a drawn-out period during which unsubstantiated suspicions regarding Netanyahu’s wrongdoing paralyzes the government and prevents it from functioning.
This is not the first time allegations have been leveled against Netanyahu. And, unfortunately, in the past, these allegations were not addressed in a timely fashion as befits a democracy.
In May, a state comptroller’s report that revisited the so-called “Bibi tours” case hinted that Mandelblit’s predecessor Yehuda Weinstein dragged his feet.
A press release from the comptroller’s office that accompanied the release of the report maintained that State Comptroller Yosef Shapira pressed then attorney- general Weinstein in 2015 to reopen an investigation into several matters, given the “suspicion of criminal [wrongdoing].”
Weinstein had decided against launching an investigation in 2014 regarding claims that Netanyahu allegedly received gifts from businessmen and others to pay for trips abroad for him and his family between 2003 and 2005 when he served as finance minister.
But Shapira said he continued to pursue the case for the May 2016 report, and in May and December 2015, handed over additional information to Weinstein that he assessed could be criminal. Mandelblit has yet to rule on whether to reopen the “Bibi tours” case in light of the more recent evidence.
By the way, Mandelblit has defended Weinstein against charges that he dragged his feet on “Bibi tours.”
Mandelblit proved early on in his stint that he will not be intimidated. His appointment was initially criticized because of his close ties with the prime minister – he served as cabinet secretary for more than four years under Netanyahu.
But Mandelbit, who also previously served as the military advocate-general, has shown his willingness to be tough when necessary. He reportedly has prohibited the prime minister from continuing to hold the communication portfolio due to his connections with Shaul Elovitch, who has a controlling interest in Bezeq, though sources in the Communication Ministry deny this.
After Shapira released his report in May, Mandelblit was quick to respond, stating that the comptroller’s findings would be examined quickly and professionally.
We hope he stands behind this promise.
The nation must not be subjected to a long, drawnout period of uncertainty while the charges against Netanyahu are scrutinized and his tenure is overshadowed by unsubstantiated claims.
Mandelblit should determine whether there is substance in the allegations against Netanyahu. If so, a speedy, professional investigation should be launched.
If not, the charges should be laid to rest and Netanyahu should be freed to do what he was voted into office to do: run the country