Netanyahu: Allegations of Improper Funding Are 'Baseless Slander'

PM responds publicly for the first time to allegations against him; State Comptroller asks to be instilled with authority of panel of inquiry, to be able to call witnesses and request relevant documents.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday called allegations that some of his travels outside the country were funded by private businessmen part of an "orchestrated and organized slander campaign" against him.

The remarks, in which Netanyahu responded publicly for the first time to reports by Channel 10 about the funding sources for the his overseas trips, were made in an interview that was broadcast on Channel Two and on YouTube, in which he answered recorded questions from web surfers all over the world.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Michal Pattel

"We're talking about all kinds of stories, most of them baseless and contaminated by hypocrisy. There are journalists that do not like that I am prime minister and are trying in their way to change that," Netanyahu said.

"I want to let those journalists know: It won't help you any, it's malicious and its hypocritical and I will be here for many years and I won't change my positions. Nothing was funded illegally," Netanyahu continued.

Netanyahu contended that the media treats him with a double-standard, and that other prime ministers, presidents, ministers, and members of Knesset acted in the exact same way.

"It's infected by hypocrisy, because every year there are hundreds of trips by members of Knesset, ministers and former prime ministers. There is a standard for trips. The standard for previous prime ministers and previous presidents is acceptable, and is no different from Clinton or Blair," Netanyahu said. "Others did not fly charter or stay at youth hostels."

Netanyahu denied that his trips were funded by foreign businessmen. "I was not invited by donors or private individuals. It's all distorted," Netanyahu emphasized.

"Why? You don't fly to a private function, you fly to public functions by groups that want to help Israel, or the poor, or immigrants. It's not for private use. These are not private trips," Netanyahu said. "Who will pay for them? Donors. Who funds the Association for the Wellbeing of Israel's Soldiers? Donors."

According to Netanyahu, the Channel Ten investigation and the media's dwelling on the story is an attempt to harm him. "The truth will come out," he said. "You cannot hold me to a double-standard. Everyone traveled with their wives. The worst part is that in order to harm me, they automatically aim for my wife, threateningly and unfairly."

"Many journalists and many journals. As this poison spreads, my wife Sara is a child psychologist and goes into schools, goes to work, help kids in need," Netanyahu added. "The mothers and the children love her. And her colleagues ask her, 'Sara! What are they doing to you?'"

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss on Wednesday asked the State Control Committee to instill him with the authority of a panel of inquiry, as it nears its decision on whether to open an investigation into allegations against Netanyahu.

Lindenstrauss asked that the Knesset committee empower Nahum Levy, adviser for the prosecution of public corruption in the State Comptroller's Office, with powers suited to the head of an investigation commission.

The intention is for Levy, who will apparently head an investigation team, to have the authority to summon witnesses, and demand that they furnish documents.

Lindenstrauss made his request in light of the fact that the Knesset earlier in the day took spring recess.

Lindenstrauss will convene a special meeting Thursday of a team of senior officials from the State Comptroller's Office who in past days have investigated various aspects of the Bibi-Tours affair. Participants in the meeting will discuss the possible scope and character of a review of the affair.

Officials in the Comptroller's Office are concerned about technical problems connected to this investigation. Many of the persons possibly implicated in the affair are foreigners, and persons who cannot be subject to any critique formulated by Lindenstrauss. These are persons who cannot be summoned as witnesses, or compelled to supply documents.