Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. The charges come after a turbulent period in Israeli politics, as Netanyahu tries to hold on to his political career. Mandelblit announced the corruption charges, “with a heavy heart” on Thursday 21 and included all the major accusations against the 70-year-old Prime Minister, who passes into history as the first PM charged in office. The Attorney General commented on his actions to reporters, saying that the indicting of a seated prime minister for serious corruption charges is a, “dark day for the Israeli public”. The 63-page indictment contains information on Mr. Netanyahu allegedly receiving luxury gifts and favours from millionaire friends amounting to several hundred thousand dollars, in exchange for political favours. The most serious allegation involves the promotion of regulations favouring telecommunication companies in exchange for positive coverage from owned media websites. He could face up to ten years in prison if convicted of bribery and a maximum of three for breach of trust and fraud. Opposition leader Benny Gantz has called this a dark moment for Israel, supporting the Attorney General and calling for Netanyahu to resign.
So far, the response from Netanyahu has been to attack the allegations. In a televised speech he frequently referred to the process as a “witch hunt” and an “attempted coup”, calling for the investigation of the accusers. He has previously stated that he would not resign from office unless convicted.
While there is no legal requirement for government officials to quit while under investigation, it would mean that Netanyahu would be subject to years-long court cases all the while being under incredible political pressure. The supreme court previously ruled that cabinet members under criminal investigation had to resign, although whether this ruling also applies to the prime minister has yet to be determined. Currently parliamentary allies are pushing for legislation protecting the head of government from investigation while in office. It could take months before the case is brought up to the district courts and even longer until a verdict can be made, with more time added for appeals. Netanyahu could still hold office for years unless the supreme court pressures him into resignation.
Currently, Israel is in a political dead-lock as no party is able to gain a majority in parliament with a coalition, even after the two elections called in 2019, with a high chance of an unprecedented third call to the ballots by the end of the year. In this turbulent state of affairs, it is unknown if Netanyahu’s political allies will support him for another re-election.