Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been named in three separate corruption cases that accuse him of breaching trust, committing fraud, and being involved in bribery. The charges were announced by Israel’s Attorney General. This is the first time in history that a sitting Prime Minister of Israel is facing criminal investigations.
In a 57-page filing in February, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit laid out the charges against Netanyahu. The PM had “advanced regulatory benefits worth more than 1 billion shekels (approximately [US]$280 million) to his friend, millionaire Shaul Elovitch, who owned the Walla! News website as part of his control of the Bezeq telecommunications company… 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,” according to CNN.
From late 2012, Netanyahu started making hundreds of demands for positive media coverage about him during election periods. In addition to asking for publication of stories supporting him, Netanyahu also demanded the removal or alteration of reports that portrayed him in a bad light. Then in 2015, he asked a close confidante to approve the merger between Bezeq and Yes, another telecommunications company, as soon as possible. Since Elovitch had a stake in Bezeq, the merger ended up benefiting him in a big way.
The second case focuses on the gifts received by Netanyahu between 2011 and 2016, including items like expensive champagne and cigars. Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan was one of the people who regularly sent the PM expensive gifts. In exchange, Netanyahu apparently helped him with visa applications to the U.S. and is said to have even asked the American Secretary of State at that time to ensure approval of Milchan’s visa. The third and final case involves Netanyahu’s attempts to strike a deal with the owner of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper for favorable coverage.
Though Netanyahu is under investigation, Israeli law does not require him to resign unless convicted. However, the charges have created a big dent in his approval. A group of Israeli businessmen wrote a letter asking Netanyahu to resign from his post immediately. “Growth and economic well-being require a strong and stable democracy. This requires a regime untainted by corruption that respects democratic values, including the independence of the legal system and a free press… It is unacceptable for Israel and its democratic institutions to become a victim of the prime minister’s personal battle for survival. The prime minister should resign immediately and take care of his legal affairs as a private citizen,” the letter stated (Globes).
Supporting Israeli settlements
This month, the U.S. announced a major shift in its policy regarding Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Until now, America had viewed the settlements as illegal according to international law. But the Trump administration has reversed the position.
“The U.S. public statements on settlement activities in the West Bank have been inconsistent over decades… The establishment of Israeli settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law… After carefully studying all sides of the legal debate, this administration agrees with President Reagan,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement (The Epoch Times).
Israel took over the West Bank in the aftermath of the 1967 war. As a consequence, there are around 700,000 Israelis living in the region. Prior to 1967, the area was under the occupation of Jordan. According to the Palestinians, the land belongs to them and is earmarked for a future state.