Gantz to Netanyahu: Fight your legal battles out of office
The political scene is split in their response following the attorney general's announcement to seek the prime minister's indictment on bribery charges; While the left-wing leaders urge Netanyahu to quit his post, those on the right express their support ahead of April elections.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who was once Netanyahu's cabinet secretary, called for Netanyahu to face charges in all three of the open corruption investigations into his activities, hours after the High Court rejected a last-ditch attempt by the Likud party to scupper his recommendations until after the April 9 elections. The indictments recommended by Mandelblit will be subject to a hearing beforehand.
“If and when you prove your innocence, you will be able to return to the public arena with your head held high, "Gantz said." I expect you to wage your legal battles a private man and wish you success in that endeavour. This evening, when the attorney general decides to indict an acting prime minister, is painful for every Israeli patriot," Gantz added. "Given the publication of the attorney-general's recommendations this evening, and the circumstances that have been created, sitting together (in government) with Benjamin Netanyahu is not an option."
Gantz joined a growing of chorus of those demanding from the prime minister to resign from his position.
Labor party leader Avi Gabbay was among the first to call on the prime minister to resign. "Netanyahu is embarrassing the State of Israel, destroying everything else in order to save himself. Israeli citizens do not want corrupt leadership,” said Gabbay. “Netanyahu—resign! Don’t wage your battles from the prime minister's house."
MK Shelly Yachimovich, leader of the opposition, also called on Netanyahu to quit his post. “Netanyahu can not run in the elections and cannot continue being a prime minister even for a another day," she said.
Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg accused Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party of being the prime minister’s partners in crime. "Today it’s clear why the Kahanists had been brought back to the Knesset … It’s not just Netanyahu, the Likud party and the extreme right are accomplices in these crimes … the alternative is a government with the Meretz party in it," Zandberg said.
The sternest out of Netanyahu's critics was Hadash-Ta’al co-chairman Ayman Odeh, who said the prime minister’s “place is in prison … His incitement against the Arab population, calling the left traitors, his policy of ‘divide and conquer,’ all meant to sway the attention from his corrupt policies,” he said. “Netanyahu’s top priority is himself, and certainly not the citizens."
Meanwhile, Netanyahu's past and current coalition partners appear to back the embattled prime minister.
Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz from the Likud party said despite trusting the attorney general’s “integrity and honesty,” he believes the prime minister has “Israel's best interests at heart … he is not a corrupt person. I hope after the hearing, these accusations will fade away," he said.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein (Likud), also expressed his support for the prime minister. "The announcement seeking indictment against a party leader 40 days before the elections without a prior hearing constitutes irreversible public and political damage not only to him, but to an entire party and to the electorate,” he said. “We will continue with all our might the campaign on the way to the Likud victory and the establishment of a strong right-wing bloc."
"The prime minister should have the right to the presumption of innocence, like any other Israeli citizen,” said the New Right party in an official statement. “We respect the Attorney General's decision, but as the attorney general said himself, he will attend the hearing with an open heart and a willing soul, so will we wait for the outcome … We will recommend that the president places the task of forming the next government on Benjamin Netanyahu."
Mandelblit recommended bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges in Case 4000, in which Netanyahu is suspected of receiving favorable coverage on the Walla! News website in return for regulatory benefits to telecommunications giant Bezeq, which owns the site.
The attorney general also called for charges of fraud and breach of trust in both Case 1000, in which Netanyahu and his family are suspected of receiving illicit gifts from wealthy donors, and Case 2000, in which Netanyahu allegedly tried to negotiate favorable coverage in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily (Ynetnews' sister publication) in return for promoting legislation against rival paper Israel Hayom.
Reuters contributed to this report