Netanyahu’s allies rally to his defense, opposition calls for resignation

Netanyahu’s allies defended him after indictment recommendations, while the opposition called on him to step down.

By: AP and World Israel News Staff

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s allies from his Likud party and other coalition members rallied to his defense on Wednesday, after police recommended the attorney general indict him on bribery charges.

Likud party lawmaker David Amsalem, the coalition whip, dismissed the police recommendations.

He said that police had committed “an illegitimate act here to attempt a coup d’etat in Israel,” adding “there are things that are forbidden to do in a democratic government and this is one of them.”

Culture Minister Miri Regev said the gifts Netanyahu received from American billionaire Arnon Milchan that were cited in the bribery charge were merely “relations between friends.”

Regev said in an interview with Israel Radio: “You are allowed to receive presents from friends. To talk about bribery, you’ve got to point to something that was really done, not just words.”

She said there was no need for Netanyahu to step down.

‘Not Living Up to the Standard’

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, head of the Bayit Yehudi party which is part of the Coalition, chided Netanyahu for “not living up to the standard” expected of the office, but stopped short of calling for his resignation.

Bennett, a key Netanyahu ally, spoke for the first time since the police’s dramatic announcement.

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Bennett said at a meeting of local governments in Tel Aviv that he believes in Netanyahu’s “sincere motives,” but “taking gifts in large sums over a long period of time is not living up to this standard” expected of the premier.

Nonetheless, Bennett said he will wait for Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s decision whether or not to indict the prime minister.

He declared, “Until that decision … I call on all sides to act responsibly, with restraint, and with statesmanship.”

Netanyahu himself dismissed the police recommendations, calling the allegations “biased, extreme, full of holes like Swiss cheese.”

Netanyahu said his government remains stable despite the police’s recommendations, and that he is confident as always that “the truth will come to light and nothing will come of this.”

He further accused police of being on a witch hunt and vowed to remain in office.

Netanyahu’s lawyer, Amit Hadad, said police recommendations of corruption charges are based on “false” statements.

Police said in a statement that Netanyahu had accepted gifts valued at 750,000 shekels ($214,000) from billionaire film producer Arnon Milchan, and in exchange Netanyahu had operated on Milchan’s behalf on US visa matters and helped Milchan with the Israeli media market. This case in known as Case 1000.

Hadad told Israel Radio that the sums allegedly received by Netanyahu according to police were “inflated, incorrect, unfactual, and simply unacceptable.”

Hadad asserted that Netanyahu “didn’t receive bribes at all. Not in a single day, not in a year, not at all.”

He added that the “prime minister never acted in Milchan’s benefit on any issue, except for one, that of the visa.”

Upholding the Rule of Law

However, Israeli opposition politicians called on Netanyahu to resign following the indictment recommendations.

Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay said Netanyahu’s coalition party allies need to choose between supporting the prime minister and upholding the rule of law.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, whose Kulanu party is crucial to Netanyahu’s government, urged on Facebook that the attacks on police cease, saying the legal system should be allowed to operate “without pressure, from neither right nor left.”

Meanwhile, MK Zehava Gal-on, of the extreme-left Meretz party, said Kahlon and Bennett — both key coalition partners — should “show Netanyahu the way out.”

Ofer Shelah, a lawmaker with the opposition Yesh Atid party, said criticism of his party’s leader Yair Lapid — a key witness in the case against Netanyahu — is “an attempt to divert the conversation from what happened.”

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The police on Tuesday recommended that Netanyahu be indicted on bribery and breach of trust charges in two corruption cases.

Following the announcement late on Tuesday, Netanyahu angrily rejected the accusations, which included accepting nearly $300,000 in gifts from two billionaires.

Netanyahu said in a televised address: “I will continue to lead the state of Israel responsibly and loyally as long as you, the citizens of Israel, choose me to lead you.”