Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been formally charged with bribery, fraud, and breach of trust, marking the first time in Israel’s history that a sitting prime minister has been indicted on criminal charges.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced on Thursday that after three years of investigations, Netanyahu would be charged in three different corruption cases.
“This is a sad and tough day,” Mandelblit said in a press conference, “for me and for Israel. I have made the decision with a heavy heart, but whole heartedly.”
“No stone was left unturned,” he said, adding that he conducted a length preliminary probe and made “sure there were real charges, because going after a prime minister is serious.”
The cases against Netanyahu center around allegations that the premiere engaged in a quid pro quo with media executives in which Netanyahu, in his capacity as communications minister, pushed policies that benefited the execs in exchange for favorable media coverage.
Another major charge lies in allegations that Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, accepted gifts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars (approx. $260,000) in exchange for political favors.
Hours after Mandelblit’s announcement, Netanyahu held a press conference, calling the charges “an attempted coup” against him.
Netanyahu accused the investigations, as well as the police, of being “contaminated,” saying “in this procedure they didn’t look for the truth. They were looking for me.”
Earlier in the day, he Tweeted: “The investigators need to be investigated!”
לא חיפשו את האמת. חיפשו אותי. צריך לחקור את החוקרים!
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) November 21, 2019
“These trumped up charges against me are shocking not only to me but to masses of Israeli citizens, raise questions about the function of the police and the attitude of the system of justice,” he said.
Netanyahu concluded his press conference by reassuring voters that he would not be stepping down from office, and that he would “continue to lead this country, as the law allows me.”
Netanyahu is calling for an uprising: "these trumped up charges against me are shocking not only to me but to masses of Israeli citizens, raise questions about the function of the police and the attitude of the system of justice. The public has already lost faith in them.
— Noga Tarnopolsky (@NTarnopolsky) November 21, 2019
Netanyahu is Israel’s longest serving prime minister, and has shaped much of Israeli politics for the past decade. Throughout the investigations, Netanyahu has referred to the process as a “witch hunt” and called the accusations against him “fake news.”
Thursday’s announcement capped a tumultuous political year for the face of Israel’s right-wing, following his failure to form a governing coalition after barely scraping together a majority of votes in two election cycles.
The indictments mean that Israel’s Justice Ministry will now move to strip Netanyahu of his parliamentary immunity — which analysts say has been the motivating factor behind Netnayahu’s unrelenting attempts at reelection: as long as he’s prime minister, he won’t face jail time.
Coincidentally, Thursday was also the first day of a three-week window in which any member of the Knesset can try to form a governing majority.
The extremely rare political event, spurred on by the failure of both Netanyahu and his opponent Benny Gantz to form majority coalitions, will also be given to the two political rivals. If no majority is formed in the next 21 days, Israel will head for an unprecedented, and unwanted, third election cycle.