Israeli president accused of plotting ‘putsch’ to shunt Netanyahu aside

A report claims Israeli President Reuven Rivlin planned to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Rivlin denies it.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

On Wednesday, President Reuven Rivlin’s office denied allegations made by Benjamin Netanyahu’s associates that he intended to prevent the prime minister from becoming the country’s leader should his party emerge victorious in the next elections.

“We had trouble finding any real information in the report other than a detailed description of paranoia that is not based on any real step or even a thought that actually happened,” the president’s statement said. “Treating such phenomena should be left to professionals who are not spokespeople.”

The sparring began when Israel Hayom reported that Netanyahu had planned on calling early elections this month but reversed course when he learned that Rivlin might ask a different member of his Likud Party to form a coalition – even though he is the elected head of the party.

According to Israeli law, the president can ask any Knesset member to form a government.

“This is the stinkiest maneuver of all time; it’s a putsch attempt,” the paper quoted an anonymous senior Likud official. “They know that Netanyahu cannot be replaced in the elections, so they try every which way they can think of to get him out.”

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No love lost

It’s no secret that the president is not one of the prime minister’s greatest fans, especially after Netanyahu made strenuous – though unsuccessful — efforts to derail Rivlin’s candidacy for president in 2014. Rivlin also hinted at a conference in February that Netanyahu should resign if indicted for any of the four alleged corruption cases against him currently under investigation.

The police had just recommended indictment in two of them (the “receiving expensive gifts” affair and “favorable coverage in Yedioth Ahronot” affair), and Rivlin noted that “in the past many senior politicians expressed their views clearly on what happens when there is an indictment.” This was a clear reference to Netanyahu, who had publicly called for then-prime minister Ehud Olmert to resign when he faced similar allegations.

Sa’ar a suspect

The plot thickened when the paper pointed to a possible “suspect” – former Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar – basing its revelation on a Netanyahu associate, who said, “The plot that was published today in Israel Hayom was not hatched in the president’s residence, but by a former Likud official, who also spoke about it with some of the coalition partners.”

Suspicion readily fell on Sa’ar because he is close to Rivlin and served as his campaign manager in his bid for the presidency. However, Sa’ar has publicly supported Netanyahu, having worked as his minister of education and minister of internal affairs, among other key posts.

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Sa’ar quit politics in 2014, citing personal reasons but has gradually made his way back.

According to reports, Netanyahu’s fears prompted Likud MK David Amsalem to draft a bill that would limit the president’s selection powers and ensure the party leader forms the government.