After Support Rally, Party Members Convinced Netanyahu Will Not Step Down if Indicted

Some ministers say it has to be breach of trust or bribery for them to demand Netanyahu's exist as Likud party ramps up its defense of the prime minister

Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during an event by his Likud Party to show support for its leader in Tel Aviv, Israel August 9, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
AMIR COHEN/REUTERS

Many cabinet members and legislators say that if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is indicted on corruption charges he will have to resign, but  anything short of that means they will not demand his resignation and he will remain the Likud party’s unchallenged leader.

Some ministers say that any indictment justifies his resignation, while others say it depends on the charges. Some ministers say that if Netanyahu is charged with breach of trust he must resign, others cite bribery.

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The sources say it could take up to a year for any indictment to be filed, not very long before March 2019, by when the next Knesset election is due.

MK David Bitan at a Likud event held in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Tel Aviv, August 9, 2017.
Ilan Assayag

All the MKs and ministers Haaretz spoke with declined to be quoted by name so as not to be seen as challenging the prime minister.

As police investigations of his alleged criminal corruption mounted this week, Netanyahu told a Tel Aviv rally of some 3,000 supporters Wednesday night that the left and media were waging an “obsessive witch hunt” aimed at ousting him.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu criticized former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, “the old man with the new beard,” for saying “the diplomatic tsunami is on its way.” Netanyahu called Barak’s warnings nonsense.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
Ofer Vaknin

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On Thursday, Likud kept the derision of Barak rolling. “It’s funny that Ehud Barak, who was investigated under caution about NGOs that raised millions for him illegally, is talking about corruption,” Likud said on its Facebook page.

The post also reminded readers that former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s bureau chief had recorded Olmert saying that Barak “took bribes worth millions and tens of millions. There is no weapons deal Israel does ... everyone is talking about it.” Barak’s office called such claims unfounded when they surfaced in 2014.

The Likud Facebook post also urges the authorities to look into “how Barak, as defense minister, advanced the acquisition of planes from Lockheed Martin.”

According to the post, “Barak had better continue his travels among luxury hotels around the world and not hurl false accusations at Netanyahu, who has always acted according to the law for Israel’s well-being and security.”

Barak tweeted in response: “They should stop backing corruption. It’s him and his lackeys. All their accusations have been investigated and found to be groundless. It’s sad. The prime minister as a clown.”

On Wednesday, MK Moti Yogev (Habayit Hayehudi) came to the rally to support Netanyahu. The party’s chairman, Naftali Bennett, is abroad, but sources say he is following events closely.

Bennett’s party is preparing for the possibility that Netanyahu will seek a snap election before Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit decides on whether to indict him.

The head of the center-right Kulanu party, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, returned from a trip abroad this week. He reportedly has said that the government is working well and he is advancing his goals. In the current situation he thus would not take steps to undermine the governing coalition, he was quoted as saying.