Only the voters will decide if I remain in office, not bureaucrats, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after Attorney-General Avihai Mandelblit announced on Thursday his intention to indict the premier on multiple charges of fraud and breach of trust, and one bribery charge, pending a hearing.
Netanyahu gave a very political speech from the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem, focusing on the timing of the charges and arguing that they are meant to bring down the Right, repeatedly using the phrase “witch hunt.”
The prime minister opened by talking about his recent meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and comments US President Trump made overnight Wednesday, calling him tough and smart. He argued that he and the Likud have made Israel stronger than ever before.
"These connections are not to be taken for granted," Netanyahu said. "The Left knows they cannot compete with these achievements in the voting booth, so they put massive pressure on the attorney general to indict even though there is nothing, in order to influence the elections and put the Left in charge."
Netanyahu expressed confidence that most voters won't be influenced by the announcement, but said that even if it influences a few not to vote for him, it will bring the Left to power.
"I've never seen the Left so happy...They're sewing suits" to wear because they expect to become ministers, Netanyahu said.
As for the timing, 40 days before the April 9 election, Netanyahu said "every citizen knows this is outrageous and meant to bring down the Right.
"I am not being given the chance to disprove [the accusations] until after the election - and I will disprove them all," he added.
"It all began when they accused my wife and me of six cases of bribery. It's a house of cards that will collapse. Five of those six cases already fell apart, and the rest will too. They'll be like dust. They won't be remembered," he said.
The prime minister also referred to a letter from American jurist and Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, arguing that the charges dealing with relations between politicians and the medai are a danger to democracy and that there is no precedent in the world of positive media coverage being considered a bribe.
"If positive media coverage is a bribe, why didn't they even consider investigating Yair Lapid?" he asked.
"There are rules for everyone, and other rules for Netanyahu and the Likud. This whole house of cards will fall," he said.
Netanyahu said he has "the strength to stand up to this witch hunt" thanks to his family, his knowledge that the accusations are baseless, and support from Israelis.
In a dramatic televised speech on Thursday night, Feb. 28, Binyamin Netanyahu pledged to serve Israel as prime minister for years to come after the charges against him collapse “like a house of cards.” Attorney general Avihai Mendelblit had just released his rulings on the three police probes against Netanyahu. All three accused him of fraud and breach of trust and one of bribery – favorable press coverage for the prime minister on a website owned by Shaul Alovitch, the largest shareholder in Bezeq telecom, in exchange for regulatory benefits for the company.
Before he gets his day in court to defend himself, or presents his side of the case to the attorney general, the prime minister faces an election on April. 9. This entire legal process could take months. Until then he is a “suspect.” However, the AG chose to publish the charges 40 days before the election, which Netanyahu’s Likud denounced as “flagrant interference” in the democratic process. Netanyahu accused his enemies of long persecution and a witch hunt to bring him and his right-wing government down after failing to overthrow him at the polling booth.
Following the prime minister’s address to the nation, two of his leading opponents went on camera to demand that he step down forthwith. Former prime minister and Labor leader Ehud Barak accused the attorney general of dealing too leniently with the Netanyahu’s offences, while opposition Blue-White leader Benny Gantz, who is challenging the Likud leader for election, lavished Brutus-like praise but advised him to step down before he is beaten.
The AG’s 55-page document appears to criminalize the prime minister for choosing officials willing and able to carry forth his policies or any other kinds of machinations which are par for the course for politicians. In the case of Netanyahu, favors were dispensed but no money changed hands, in return for favorable press coverage. Will this conduct stand up in court as criminal bribery? It would be hard to find any politician who has not solicited a publisher, an op-ed writer or reporter for favorable coverage with offers of benefits.
Trump called him a great prime minister and said he does a great job. Netanyahu returned from Moscow early Thursday after an amicable meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow.