Israeli police have accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of taking corporate bribes for positive media coverage. A police statement released on February 14 noted that, in two separate cases, evidence implicated the prime minister on bribery, fraud, and breach-of-trust charges.
The first case alleges that the prime minister asked Yediot Aharanot, publisher of an Israeli newspaper, to produce favorable coverage in return for coercive measures against a rival media outlet. The police recommended that Aharanot also face charges.
Earlier allegations claim that the prime minister received more than one million shekels worth ($283,000) of gifts from supporters since 2009. The Jerusalem Post wrote that, in exchange for helping Arnold Milchan, a Hollywood producer and Israeli businessman, acquire a U.S. visa, Netanyahu received champagne, cigars, and other novelties. Upon receiving the gifts, Netanyahu began to advocate for the Milchan Law, which would exempt returning international Israelis from a decade’s worth of taxes. The Ministry of Finance blocked this proposal.
Police also suspect that the prime minister received gifts from Australian billionaire James Packer, though Netanyahu’s motive is less clear in this case. To defense and prosecution lawyers’ surprise, Yair Lapid, Netanyahu’s former minister of finance, volunteered as a witness against Netanyahu in the Milchan tax case. Al-Monitor’s Mazal Mualem called Lapid a “surprise witness” and the prime minister’s “new archenemy.”
Netanyahu has been defiant, claiming the accusations will “end in nothing.” Netanyahu announced in a live television address, “All I did was for the benefit of the state of Israel…this is what I did up until now, and what I will continue to do.” Netanyahu mentioned earlier accusations that “resulted in nothing,” but did not specify which instances he was referring to. Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett reported, “Throughout this case, [Netanyahu is] still insisting that he is innocent, that nothing will come from this…it’s now being passed over to the attorney general to decide whether to indict him or not.”
Palestinian leaders wasted no time responding to the accusations on social media. Ayman Odeh, who heads the Palestinian Joint List bloc in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, asserted that Netanyahu was “corrupt and dangerous,” and that “Netanyahu must go home.”
More officials have been arrested in connection with the case, but no reports have specified their identities. According to a February 18 poll, 45 percent of Israelis want Netanyahu to resign before the attorney general determines whether or not indictment is necessary. However, Netanyahu has continued to maintain his innocence. The attorney general’s decision is expected to be released by mid-March.