During a final pre-indictment hearing last month, Netanyahu’s high-powered legal team tried to convince prosecutors to close the cases, including the most serious charge of bribery. But Avichai Mandelblit, a Netanyahu appointee who once served as his cabinet secretary, is moving forward.
Israel’s deadlocked parliament means that a formal indictment may still be months away. Nevertheless, the charges are a significant blow to Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister, who has held office for a total of more than 13 years. He has proclaimed his innocence ever since the criminal investigations became public nearly three years ago.
As the investigations advanced, Netanyahu refused repeated calls from opposition lawmakers to step down. Unlike a government minister, or ordinary lawmaker, who must resign his position if indicted, a Prime Minister is under no such obligation. Instead, he or she is only required to step down after any conviction and subsequent appeals process has played out, which could take years.
Mandelblit laid out the foundation of the criminal charges in a 57-page filing in February, when he announced he would pursue charges of bribery and breach of trust.
In the most serious case, known as Case 4000, prosecutors say Netanyahu advanced regulatory benefits worth more than 1 billion shekels (approximately $280 million) to his friend, millionaire Shaul Elovitch, who owned the Walla! News website as part of his control of the Bezeq telecommunications company.
Prosecutors say that in exchange, Netanyahu, who also served at that time as Israel’s Minister of Communications, received favorable news coverage on Walla! as well as influence over the choice of stories and language used.
In the other two cases against Netanyahu, known as Case 1000 and 2000, he faces two charges of fraud and breach of trust, one from each investigation. In Israel, fraud and breach of trust is a single charge.
In Case 1000, prosecutors say that between 2011 and 2016 Netanyahu received gifts from overseas businessmen, including expensive cigars and champagne, which later turned into a “supply line.” The value of the gifts was approximately $200,000. In particular, the gifts came from Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Australian businessman James Packer.
In return for the gifts, prosecutors say, Netanyahu helped Milchan with visa applications to the United States, even asking then-Secretary of State John Kerry to intercede to make sure the visa was approved. Netanyahu also allegedly sought to pass tax amendments that would have benefited Milchan, even as Israel’s Finance Minister at the time expressed reservations about granting the exemption.
In Case 2000, prosecutors say Netanyahu sought to make a deal with Arnon “Noni” Mozes, the owner of Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, that would have seen Netanyahu receive more favorable coverage.
In return, the Israeli leader would then pursue legislation that would limit the circulation of Yedioth Ahronoth’s rival, Israel HaYom; at least that is what Netanyahu wanted Mozes to believe, prosecutors say. The largest newspaper in the country, Israel HaYom, is owned by Sheldon Adelson and is widely seen as a mouthpiece for Netanyahu.
Netanyahu met with Mozes in three separate rounds of meetings between 2008 and 2014, as the two talked about the details of the arrangement, but no agreement was ever reached, according to prosecutors. Mozes proposed hiring writers who would work on Netanyahu’s behalf while publishing negative articles about Netanyahu’s rivals. Improving the coverage of Netanyahu was euphemistically called “turning the board around.”
Netanyahu attacks judiciary
Netanyahu argued that the investigations against him were unfair and that numerous details of the cases were leaked to the media. As the indictments drew closer, his attacks on the judiciary, the police and state prosecutors escalated.
What’s next for Netanyahu
Netanyahu will now face growing calls from politicians and the public for him to resign. So far, he has refused any such demands.
Importantly, he remains the leader of Israel’s conservative right wing, retaining the support of his own Likud party, as well as of the religious Zionist and far-right parties. If his allies deem him more of a liability than an asset, they could seek to remove him, but so far there is no indication that such a move is imminent.
Israel is now in a 21-day period where any member of Knesset who can muster the support of a majority of lawmakers can become Prime Minister. In theory that includes Netanyahu, but news of the Attorney General’s final decision makes it less likely that any opposition lawmakers would cross over to give him their support.