On This Day: Israel's A-G announces intent to indict Netanyahu

The announcement was seen as historic, as it was the first time in Israeli history such charges were ever to be brought against a sitting prime minister.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and  Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit (photo credit: EMIL SALMAN/HAARETZ/MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit
(photo credit: EMIL SALMAN/HAARETZ/MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

November 21 marks two years since Israel's Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit announced his intention to indict then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in three different public corruption cases.

“This is a hard and sad day,” Mandelblit said in a dramatic speech at the Justice Ministry at the time. “I am bringing an indictment on public corruption against the prime minister in three cases. It is sad for me personally and for the country.”

He further explained that he was obligated by law to indict Netanyahu, as no man may be above the law.

The indictment itself was not filed until January 2020, when Netanyahu finally waived his parliamentary immunity. However, the announcement was seen as historic, as it was the first time such charges were ever to be brought against a sitting prime minister.

Overall, Netanyahu was indicted for his role in three cases. Case 1000, the Illegal Gifts Affair, for which he faces charges of fraud and breach of trust; Case 2000, the Yediot Aharonot-Israel Hayom Affair, which also sees him charged with fraud and breach of trust; and Case 2000, the Bezeq-Walla Affair, which sees Netanyahu charged with fraud, breach of trust and bribery.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits at the plenum at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem May 30, 2019. (credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sits at the plenum at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem May 30, 2019. (credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)

In Case 1000, Netanyahu is accused of receiving hundreds of thousands of shekels in gifts from rich tycoons, mostly from Arnon Milchin, in exchange for a variety of help with business and personal-legal initiatives. The charge itself is for acting in situations in which Netanyahu had a conflict of interest, since no actual quid pro quo could be proven.

In Case 2000, Netanyahu was accused of working with Yediot and Israel Hayom to reduce Israel Hayom’s competition with Yediot in exchange for positive coverage for Netanyahu in Yediot. The deal never went through, but the law has crimes of attempted bribery and breach of trust that can apply even if a deal does not go through.

In Case 4000, Netanyahu is accused of involvement in a media bribery scheme in which Walla owner Shaul Elovitch gave him positive coverage in exchange for Netanyahu making government policies favoring Elovitch’s Bezeq company to the tune of around NIS 1.8 billion.

The charge of bribery has ensured that Netanyahu was not tried in a lower court, but instead in the Jerusalem District Court and which could see him be hit with potentially years of prison.

In the two years since, the trial eventually started after delays and is currently ongoing at the time of writing.

However, the indictment had profound implications for Israel's political stability. This is because the political Right was fractured, with many refusing to serve in a coalition with a prime minister under indictment.

This in turn brought Israel into a cycle of four elections, culminating in Netanyahu finally being removed from office.

In October, Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar passed a draft bill that would prevent someone under indictment from forming a government.

Yonah Jeremy Bob contributed to this report.