The Blue and White party on Thursday called for Benjamin Netanyahu to resign shortly after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced his decision to indict the prime minister for corruption in three investigations.
Netanyahu's political partners, however, offered support and insisted he would be found innocent of the charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust.
Blue and White released a video of the prime minister calling on predecessor Ehud Olmert to step down when he faced his own criminal charges.
The video of Netanyahu shows him saying of Olmert: "A prime minister who is bogged down in investigations has no moral and public mandate to decide such fateful events for the State of Israel."
The party's Knesset faction leader, MK Avi Nissenkorn, said he had begun to approach other Knesset factions over backing Blue and White Chairman Benny Gantz to form the next coalition government, hoping to muster the 61 MKs he needs for a majority.
Gantz himself said Thursday evening that it was a "very sad day for the State of Israel." He added: "I have full confidence in the law enforcement officials led by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. I am sure that they are doing their work faithfully, honestly and professionally."
In an apparent response to Netanyahu's claim that he is the victim of an attempted coup, Gantz added: "There is no coup in Israel, only fortification of the rule of law."
Blue and White No. 2 MK Yair Lapid also called for Netanyahu to step down, saying that, "the attorney general's announcement has just one implication: Benjamin Netanyahu cannot continue to serve as the prime minister of Israel."
He added: "We cannot have a situation in which the prime minister bombs Syria at night and goes to confront (state witness in Case 4000) Nir Hefetz in the morning. It is not possible that someone responsible for our children's education system is charged with serious criminal offenses."
The call for Netanyahu to resign was echoed by Labor-Gesher leader MK Amir Peretz.
"Netanyahu's indictments are the reason why a new government hasn’t been formed,” said Peretz.
“In a democracy, we cannot put up with a prime minister with an indictment hanging over his head. If we can stop Netanyhau from clinging on to the throne of power, we’ll be able to avoid a third election in 12 months.”
Democratic Union leader Nitzan Horowitz reiterated the sentiments, urging the prime minister to resign.
"The Netanyahu era is over,” he said. “In his political death, the outgoing prime minister will burn every good part of statehood. Anyone who blindly stays loyal to him will be remembered as giving his hand to the most serious corruption case in Israeli democracy and will directly harm the country.”
The leader of the Arab-dominated Joint List, Ayman Odeh, welcomed the indictment. “The day Netanyahu pays for his crimes will be the day we will begin repairing the damage he’s done to us,” Odeh said.
“The racism and hatred he spread will not go away with him, and it is up to us - Arabs and Jews - to build a peaceful society together and democracy based on equality that will serve all citizens of the country."
Members of the prime minister's bloc of right-wing and religious parties were quick to come to his defense.
The ultra-Orthodox Shas party said: "We support and strengthen the hand of Netanyahu, a man of tremendous accomplishment in the defense and building of the State of Israel.
"Mr. Prime Minister, we believe and trust that your innocence will be proven and justice will be seen, be strong. It is a difficult day for the State of Israel. We pray that the State of Israel will emerge from this tough crisis strong and unified."
MK Miki Zohar of the prime minister's own Likud party said the indictment was “a disrespectful gift” presented to Netanyahu by the country.
"I think the gift the State of Israel has given to its prime minister, who has devoted to it many years of his life and done so much for it, is disrespectful, undeserving, wrong, unfair and unreasonable,” said Zohar.
“I am filled with pain, but I am not surprised. I didn't think for a moment that Mandelblit could have withstood the pressure."
Fellow Likud MK, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, said the charges are “a test for all of us” and called on the members of the ruling party to unite.
"These are cases that should not have been opened to begin with, since they do not have a spec of criminality in them and are, at the very most, incidents of unethical behavior,” Levin said. “We will prevail,” he added.
Culture Minister Miri Regev, also of Likud, said she is convinced the prime minister is innocent and that police investigators as well as prosecutors shouldn’t be exempt from criticism.
“The prime minister made the right choice by deciding to continue in his role as premier, as allowed by the law, in order to fight for justice and democratic rule in Israel.”
Yisrael Beytenu Chairman Avigdor Liberman, however, was more neutral in his response, calling the indictment “a difficult day” for the country.
“We have to give the wheels of justice to do their job and also give the prime minister the opportunity to prove his innocence in court," he said.
First published: 23:31 , 11.21.19