Netanyahu confidant becomes state witness against PM

Has the Netanyahu era come to an end, and should Israel prepare for elections?

By: World Israel News and AP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, already reeling from a damaging police report into alleged corruption, faced yet another setback on Tuesday night when a longtime confidant turned state witness against him.

Netanyahu quickly denounced the allegations, but they presented an embarrassing new headache for him as a growing list of members of his inner circle gets swept up in scandals.

Shlomo Filber, the former director of the Communications Ministry under Netanyahu, is suspected of promoting regulation worth hundreds of millions of dollars to Israel’s Bezeq telecom company, in a case dubbed Case 4000. In return, Bezeq’s popular news site, Walla, allegedly provided favorable coverage of Netanyahu and his family.

Filber will reportedly divulge everything he knows about the various corruption cases, and in return will not be sent to jail.

Bezeq’s controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitch is also in custody, along with his wife, son and other top Bezeq executives. Former Walla journalists have attested to being pressured to refrain from reporting negatively on Netanyahu.

The prime minister, who held the communications portfolio until last year, has not yet been named as a suspect, though he may soon be questioned.

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The latest cases gave new fuel to opposition calls for Netanyahu to step aside as he fights a growing list of corruption scandals.

Netanyahu dismissed the investigations as “delusional, fabricated claims” that are part of an “orchestrated campaign” against him and vowed to “continue to lead the state of Israel responsibly, discreetly and with great dedication.”

Yair Lapid, leader of the opposition Yesh Atid party, said that if Netanyahu doesn’t want to resign, he should at least declare himself “incapacitated,” allowing a caretaker prime minister to be appointed.

“Israel deserves a full-time prime minister who is not engaged in anything else. Let him choose whatever path is convenient for him,” Lapid said.

“Netanyahu has become a liability for the citizens of Israel,” added Avi Gabbay, leader of the opposition Labor Party. “Every day that he stays in office is damage to the country.”

Growing list of allegations

The latest probes come days after police announced that there was sufficient evidence to indict Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two separate cases.

Attorney General Avihai Mandelblit, will make the final decision on whether to file charges — a process that is expected to take several months.

Netanyahu is accused of receiving lavish gifts from Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer. In return, police say Netanyahu operated on Milchan’s behalf on US visa matters, legislated a tax break and connected him with an Indian businessman.

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In the second case, Netanyahu is accused of offering a newspaper publisher legislation that would weaken his paper’s main rival in return for more favorable coverage.

Netanyahu has long accused the Israeli press corps of being biased against him and has taken steps to counter it by promoting more sympathetic outlets.

Netanyahu’s backers have also lashed out at police, accusing them of an overzealous campaign to topple him.

Israel’s police chief, Roni Alsheikh, said Tuesday that the police recommendations were coordinated with the attorney general and were handled in a professional manner.

“Our main objective is to remain neutral and professional,” he said in a speech to visiting Jewish American leaders. “We keep out of the media conversation, neither right nor left, but only on the side of the law.”