Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government showed no sign of splintering after police recommended charging him with bribery and fraud, throwing him a political lifeline until the attorney general decides whether to send him to trial.
That decision could take months, giving Netanyahu — who denies any wrongdoing — time to shore up his ranks even further. Although some of his coalition partners have shown no inclination to see his government crumble, others have signaled they may have second thoughts if Attorney General Avihai Mandelblit does choose to indict a sitting Israeli premier for the first time.
“We might see some political turmoil, but I think the government is quite stable,” said Eran Vigoda-Gadot, a political science professor at the Haifa University. “It’s important to realize that Netanyahu’s political base is very loyal, these are people with an emotional connection to the Likud party. They’ll say ‘So what if he took some gifts and some money? He’s a brilliant English speaker who knows how to represent us in the world stage.’ ”
After a year-long investigation, Israeli police said Tuesday they found evidence Netanyahu traded his influence for favors. In one case he is accused of receiving gifts of champagne, cigars and jewelry worth 1 million shekels ($283,600) from wealthy friends including Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, who allegedly received financial benefits from the government in return.
A second case involves Netanyahu’s discussions with the publisher of the Yediot Ahronoth newspaper to promote legislation that would weaken another daily in exchange for favorable coverage.
After the recommendations were released, opposition politicians called on Netanyahu to resign but members of Netanyahu’s Likud Party lined up behind him, echoing the prime minister’s contention that he is the victim of a political witchhunt orchestrated by left-wing opponents in collusion with the media.
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin called it a “despicable move” to “stage a coup against the voter’s will.” Ultra-Orthodox partners spoke of an “attempted putsch” and a “political witchhunt.” Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said on Facebook that “only the attorney general is empowered to decide whether or not to file an indictment.”
In another sign of the government’s stability, parliament passed the proposed 2019 budget in the first of three readings, just hours after the police recommendations were released.
Netanyahu, in a press conference late Tuesday, called the recommendations “ludicrous” and claimed the investigations were intended to topple his government.
“These recommendations have no place in a democratic society,” he said.
The shekel extended losses against the dollar after the announcement to trade 0.4 percent down, making it the second-worst performer among major currencies on Tuesday. At 9:59 a.m. in Israel on Wednesday, it was up 0.3 percent, while Israel’s TA-35 stock index was up 0.6 percent.
Netanyahu is no stranger to investigations. In 1997, during his first term, police wanted him to stand trial in an influence-peddling case involving the appointment of an attorney general. While he was between terms, police recommended in 2000 that Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, be prosecuted on suspicion of bribery and theft of state gifts. Neither set of recommendations ripened into charges.
Two bigger corruption cases have edged close to Netanyahu without directly entangling him as a suspect. Confidants — including his personal lawyer and the lead negotiator in some of Israel’s most delicate diplomacy of recent years — are suspected of wrongdoing in a 2 billion-euro ($2.5 billion) deal to purchase submarines and patrol boats from Germany’s
Separately, the director-general of the Communications Ministry, a Netanyahu appointee, was suspended after being accused of coordinating regulatory moves with Bezeq Israeli Telecommunication Corp., controlled by Netanyahu’s friend Shaul Elovitch.