With indictment in question, Likud members come out swinging for Netanyahu

The prime minister's corruption probes may be coming to a breaking point.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem May 21, 2017. (photo credit: EMIL SALMAN/POOL)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem May 21, 2017.
(photo credit: EMIL SALMAN/POOL)
Likud ministers and members of Knesset took to the media Sunday morning in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following a weekend of dramatic developments in the police case that has him suspected of corruption and other criminal activities. Their main message to the press and the public is that the prime minister has done nothing wrong and that calls for his ousting are politically motivated and an unlawful attempt to depose the government by non-democratic means.
Netanyahu is currently being investigated in three separate cases, nicknamed cases 1000, 2000 and 3000 by the press. He faces possible charges for accepting gifts from a wealthy friend in exchange for political favors, colluding with Yediot Aharonot's publisher for favorable coverage and for involvement in a corruption case surrounding the purchase of German submarines.
Netanyahu's situation was complicated last week by the fact that his former chief of staff, Ari Harow, signed a state's witness deal. By doing so, Harow is protecting himself - evading possible jail time to instead complete 6 months of community service and pay a 700,000 NIS fine - but also suggesting Netanyahu's guilt.
Tzachi Hanegbi, a Likud MK and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office in charge of national security and foreign affairs, shared his doubts about the indictment process. In an interview on Army Radio, he said that the court's reaching of a decision that would theoretically remove Netanyahu from office could take three or four years, meaning that it could come after the next elections take place in 2019.
Yisrael Katz, Minister of Transportation and Intelligence, as well as a member of the security cabinet, put out a statement in support of the prime minister.
"Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should be allowed to fulfill his duties in accordance with the mandate he received from the public, in a state of law and democratic rule, not to dismiss a prime minister based on media headlines, opposition demonstrations or partial investigative procedures. I trust the law enforcement system will carry out its work with the professionalism and responsibility required to enable the State of Israel to continue to deal adequately with the complex challenges it faces."
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (Bayit Yehudi) on Saturday also stated that Netanyahu could stay in office even if he's indicted.
“From the legal perspective, if there’s an indictment, the prime minister doesn’t have to resign,” Shaked explained on Channel 2's Meet the Press. “There is the side of values, and that is a question that coalition parties will have to ask themselves if we reach that day, but we aren’t there. There’s still a long process.”
Shaked called for “letting the government and the prime minister do their jobs.”
Politicians from the opposition, meanwhile, take it as a given that Netanyahu should leave his post, some saying such a move has been long overdue. Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay told Army Radio Sunday that he believes the public has tired of leaders tainted by corruption and wrongdoing, but that he had few expectations from Netanyahu's allies to stand up for the rule of law since it doesn't serve them politically at the moment.
The Israeli public also had their say with two protests taking place near Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit’s home in Petah Tikva for the 37th consecutive Saturday night. One of the protests, attended by some 2,000 people, called for Mandelblit to indict the prime minister, while the other was a pro-Netanyahu counter-demonstration organized by coalition chairman David Bitan and fellow Likud lawmakers, which was attended by some 150 people.
Lahav Harkov and Herb Keinon contributed to this report.