Israeli Finance Minister: Despite 'Heavy Cloud' of PM's Corruption Cases, I Won't Quit Coalition

'As cabinet ministers and public figures, we are in an uncomfortable, unpleasant period,' Moshe Kahlon says but maintains that he will make a decision only after the attorney general makes his known

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (left) alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Ronen Zvulun/AP

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said Wednesday his party would not quit the governing coalition over the corruption allegations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and will wait for the attorney general’s decision of whether to indict him or not.

“We cannot ignore the heavy, unpleasant cloud,” the chairman of the Kulanu party said during a visit to the northern Israeli town of Migdal Ha’emek, referring to police investigations of numerous allegations against Netanyahu. “As cabinet ministers and public figures, we are in an uncomfortable, unpleasant period.”

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But until Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit decides on the disposition of the cases, Kahlon said, “we’ll go on introducing reforms and acting in the interest of the public. “Only one person in Israel is authorized by law to issue indictments,” he added.

Kahlon is determined to pass the 2019 state budget in order to maintain the coalition’s stability, he said. The Knesset has already passed the budget on first reading.

Last week, after the police announced they had evidence that Netanyahu had received bribes in two cases, the so-called cigars-and-Champagne affair and the Yedioth Ahronoth quid pro-quo affair, Kahlon said he was “aware of the public sentiment, both from the left and the right.”

He added, however, that his action would depend on Mendelblit’s decision.

Coalition whip MK David Amsalem (Likud) lashed out Wednesday morning at suspended Communications Ministry Director General Shlomo Filber, who signed a deal to turn state’s evidence Tuesday night.

“Who’s a state’s witness? He’s a criminal. Often he’s the main offender,” Amsalem said in an interview with Kan Reshet Bet Radio.

“They tell him we’ll give you a reward, a perk, just come and testify against him. My fantasy is for my daughter not to marry a state’s witness. A state’s witness should be used in very serious offenses. You wouldn’t open a grocery store with a state’s witness,” Amsalem said. “A state’s witness is something inferior, immoral,” he added.

Amsalem rejected claims that Nir Hefetz, a long-time media adviser to Netanyahu and his family, had suggested to Judge Hila Gerstel that she could be appointed attorney general if she dropped an investigation into Sara Netanyahu’s alleged misuse of public funds in the prime minister’s residences.

“Does it sound reasonable to you that the prime minister would send someone to some judge who was district court president and candidate for the Supreme Court, and suggest closing his wife’s case and appointing her, when there was hardly a chance of her being appointed?” Amsalem said.

Oren Hazan was the only Likud MK who called on Netanyahu to step aside “to prevent deep embarrassment.”

Speaking with Reshet Bet before Amsalem Wednesday, Hazan said “not making the sensible decision can cast a cloud on a great career and end a great tenure with a very heavy shadow.”

“These suspicions could make us fall from power,” Hazan said.

In response, Amsalem rejected the suggestion that Netanyahu should quit. “This idea is nonsense. Israel’s citizens elected the prime minister to run the state; it’s not some minor surgery for a week. The moment you get off this wheel someone else gets on and everything looks different,” Amsalem said.