Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases, pending a hearing.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced his decision on Thursday after two years of investigations and months of speculation as to whether he would pursue charges prior to April 9 elections.
When Netanyahu first called for snap elections last December, it was widely believed that his decision was made in attempts to get ahead of any indictment announcements that could potentially hurt his prospects of winning.
The premier’s legal team had previously pressured Mandelblit to delay his announcement until after the elections, to which the Attorney General responded saying postponing his recommendations would “be a violation of the principle of equality before the law” and “is not in keeping with the public’s right to know.”
Following the announcement on Thursday, Netanyahu blasted Mandelblit, blaming the decision on pressure from Israel’s left wing.
“The left’s pressure succeeded,” Netanyahu said. “Something terrible has happened here and it is hurting Israeli democracy.”
“For the first time in the country’s history we are going to a hearing before the election, just to topple the right wing and raise the left to the premiership. There is no other explanation,” he continued.
Netanyahu maintained his belief that the indictment won’t influence Likud voters, adding “”but if it does influence a few, the left – heaven forbid – will rise to power.”
Meanwhile, Benny Gantz, Netanyahu’s most formidable opponent in the election cycle, called for the premier to step down over the charges.
“People of Israel, sitting with Netanyahu in the same government cannot happen. I call on you, Netanyahu, to show responsibility and to resign from you position,” Gantz said, adding that Netanyahu should “stop personal attacks on people you have appointed yourself,” referencing the premier’s criticism of Israeli law enforcement and the legal system.
“Instead of choosing what is good for the people, you chose what is good for yourself,” Gantz continued
Yair Lapid, co-leader of Gant’z Kahol Lavan alliance, also called on Netanyahu to resign and hand over leadership of Likud to another politician, saying “Netanyahu can’t carry on” as prime minister. “It disrespects us in the world.”
While it is too early to tell the extent to which Netanyahu will be affected by the announcement, nearly all of his rivals have called on him to step down, and political analysts have said it could spell disaster for him come April 9th.
Haaretz reported that the most recent polls prior to Mandelblit’s announcement showed “a slow but noticeable shift of right-wing voters” from the governing coalition parties, including Netanyahu’s Likud, toward the Gantz and Lapidalliance.
The report went on to quote an anonymous “right-wing pollster working for a coalition party” as saying that “the Likud vote is brittle – holding for now, but Mandelblit’s announcement could break off a significant proportion.”