Netanyahu Criminal Investigations Reach Critical Moment

Israel is teetering on the edge of widespread civil unrest as decision on Netanyahu indictment expected soon

By Tsvi Sadan | | Topics: Benjamin Netanyahu
Photo: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been summoned by Israel’s Attorney General for four days of hearings related to criminal allegations against him, namely cases 1000, 2000 and 4000.

To remind our readers, Case 1000 relates to Netanyahu allegedly receiving bribes in the form of cigars and champagnes worth in excess of 1 million shekels, provided to him by billionaires Arnon Milchan and James Packer in return for certain benefits. 

In Case 2000, Netanyahu stands accused of offering to hobble the right-wing daily newspaper Israel Hayom if media tycoon Noni Moses would provide him with more positive coverage in the rival daily Yediot Ahronot.

Case 4000 is the most serious of all in that it suggests Netanyahu, when he was Minister of Communications, made an under-the-table deal with Shaul Elovitch, the major shareholder in Israel’s partially-government-owned telecommunications company Bezeq. According to the charges, Netanyahu advanced Bezeq’s acquisition of Elovitch’s holdings in satellite TV network Yes, a deal that earned him a billion dollars. All that in exchange in for, once again, positive coverage of Netanyahu and his family.

In as much as cases 2000 and 4000 are investigating possible criminal dealings between the media and local politicians, they have no precedent in Israel’s legal history. If indicted, Netanyahu would be the first ever to stand trial for illicitly seeking positive media coverage. These cases not only raise eyebrows, they beg the charge of selective law enforcement, and for good reason. Netanyahu’s supporters say that creating a new legal precedent targeting a duly-elected sitting prime minister is problematic at best, and that singling out just one out of many politicians violates the near-sacred principle of legal equality.

That, and relentless media attacks on the integrity of Netanyahu and his family, have created the sensation of a political witch-hunt, which is anything but the pursuit of justice. And here again, it would do good to remember that since he first got into the Prime Minister’s Office in 1996, Netanyahu and his wife have faced no fewer than nine criminal charges. To date, none have born fruit aside from Sara Netanyahu being charged with the minor offense of “taking advantage of others without cheating,” for which she paid a fine of NIS 50,000. This, again, was a precedent-setting ruling, as this particular law had never been used against anyone else.

The way in which the Police, General Attorney’s Office and the media have dealt with Netanyahu–which has amounted to trial by public opinion–has divided the Israeli public between those who have already found Netanyahu guilty, and those who are convinced he is guiltless, regardless of any legal outcome. Not surprisingly, these two sides are split down the Left-Right Israeli political divide, which means that if the court finds Netanyahu guilty, it would only serve to deepen the animosity between the rival political camps.

This fear was expressed in an extraordinary Facebook post from September 18, that only surfaced a few days ago. This post dealing with the possible outcomes of the elections, as well as Netanyahu’s possible indictment, were written by Prof. Ruth Gavison, a highly-respected legal authority who received the 2011 Israel Prize for legal research. Her Facebook post reads, “I fear that in truth Netanyahu has no chance of receiving a fair trial. There was too much of a media trial, so that now it would be extremely difficult to end it in any other way [but indictment]. This is a big tragedy for Bibi, but also very bad for the state and society … nothing good can come from such clashes. No winners emerge from them.” And that is an understatement.

Tuesday evening’s spontaneous pro-Bibi demonstration near the home of Attorney General Avihai Mendelblit may be the first sign that Netanyahu’s supporters are done sitting idly by and let the prime minister’s detractors run the show. For more than a year-and-a-half, the anti-Bibi crowd has staged demonstrations every Saturday night at the very same place in an effort to pressure Mendelblit to throw the book at Netanyahu. Now, which Mendelblit set to soon submit his decision regarding indicting the prime minister, the small pro-Bibi demonstration of earlier this week could fast grow into widespread civil unrest, ultimately leading to the feared outcome that Gavison tried to put in very mild terms.

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