Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was formally charged on multiple counts in three different corruption cases yesterday. The charges came after months of investigation on the part of the Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit.
In two of the cases he has been charged with both fraud and breach of trust; in a third he has been accused of fraud, breach of trust and bribery. All three cases involve the Prime Minister getting gifts in exchange for political favors. In one case, the allegation is that Netanyahu used his position to enact policy designed to boost one newspaper while damaging its rival; in another, he is alleged to have taken regulatory action to aid a telecommunications company in exchange for positive coverage.
The potential for charges has been known for months and has been a significant factor in the previous two elections. As both Netanyahu’s Likud party and Benny Gantz’ Blue and White party have recently failed to gather together a working coalition for a new government, it is likely to be a key point in a third election as well; the Israeli President is now calling for a three-week effort by all parties to put together a working arrangement before making an attempt at a third vote.
Currently, Netanyahu remains Prime Minister but only controls some of the ministerial positions due to his failure to produce an electoral win; he is a leader with reduced power until the elections reach a conclusive resolution. In this state, his ability to avoid prosecution is greatly diminished. It was expected that, had he won, he would have legally pressed through legislation which would have rendered him immune to prosecution on the charges, whether while in office or permanently.
There have been calls for him to step down from his political rivals and unfriendly and neutral media sources such as the Jerusalem Post and Haaretz. He is likewise seeing support from friendly media like the Times.
Netanyahu has made clear that he does not intend to step down or relinquish any power. He is under no obligation to do so unless he is successfully convicted on criminal charges. The process is expected to continue to move slowly; there have been months of investigation and legal arguments moving to reject the allegations, and many weeks are expected to pass between the charges and a formal indictment as trial mechanisms are arranged and put into place. Netanyahu may yet have the opportunity to politically eliminate the charges, should he gain the full power of the Prime Minster position.
It’s worth noting that these are charges only, and while the circumstances around them appear damning, Netanyahu has not been found guilty on any of them. There was a point, prior to his embrace of world leaders like Trump, Brazil’s Bolsonaro, and Vladimir Putin that the assumption for many in America would have been innocence, despite the array of evidence against him. If we are to grant him the same respect due any American who has been accused of crimes, he should still get that assumption of innocence even as he is reasonably suspected of guilt. This event, also, does not in any way cast shade upon the Israeli people or the nation; this is the first time a sitting Prime Minister has been charged with a crime, an avoidance of high-level corruption which is unmatched by most Western nations.