Ministers Express Support for Netanyahu: Headlines Alone Can't Bring Down a Prime Minister

After days of silence, ministers from both Netanyahu's Likud and coalition parties come to his aid, claiming he is a victim of an orchestrated attack

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks up during a Knesset meeting, August 6, 2017.
Emil Salman

Israeli government ministers expressed support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday, in light of the recent developments in the investigations against him.

"Israel needs stability," said Education Minister Naftali Bennett, adding that his Habayit Hayehudi party will continue to be committed to the government. "The prime minister is innocent until proven otherwise and I hope that the investigation will conclude without charges. I have full confidence in law enforcement agencies and the attorney general."

Information Minister Gilad Erdan also defended Netanyahu. "The prime minister is leading the State of Israel responsibly and professionally, and he must be given support, despite the political and media attack against him," he said. "The statements determining that the prime minister is guilty until proven otherwise are false statements that have no place in a democratic state," he added.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz of Likud wrote on his Facebook page that "in a lawful country and a democratic regime, one does not remove a prime minister based on headlines in the media, opposition demonstrations or partial investigations." Culture Minister Miri Regev said Sunday morning that "anyone who tries to lynch the prime minister in the media should go have a cup of coffee. The extreme left forgot that one changes governments in the ballot."

The investigation against Netanyahu is expected to take many more months as the police sort through the information supplied by Ari Harrow in the various cases against the prime minister. Only after the probe is complete will the police present the findings and recommendations to the State Prosecutor’s Office.

Prosecutors are also expected to file an indictment against the prime minister's wife, Sara Netanyahu, for the misuse of public funds, further adding to the political complications surrounding the prime minister.

Avi Gabbay, the new leader of the Labor Party, said in an interview with Army Radio that he believes the investigations into Netanyahu will lead to early national elections. "In the coming year, we'll have elections. It's important to remember that we're at the beginning of the end," Gabbay said. "For a decade, Netanyahu has been controlling us by means of incitement and division. We can hope that the investigation will end this decay."

Minister without portfolio Tzachi Hanegbi (Likud) criticized the Labor leader: "The headline of the demonstration in Petah Tikva is 'Netanyahu is guilty until proven innocent,' and this insolent Labor Party leader appears there." Hanegbi added that the demonstrations against the attorney general were aggressive. "For the first time, there's an ongoing attempt to influence the attorney general in a very violent manner and to bend the rules," he said.
 
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog of the Zionist Union said in an interview with the new public broadcaster Kan's news corporation that he believed that Netanyahu would have to resign before an indictment was filed. "The political system is moving toward an exchange of power," he said, adding that "the more cases that pile up, the more the prime minister's ability to function is publicly damaged. Investigating the truth is the main thing."
 
Likud lawmaker Benny Begin supported the attorney general in an interview with Kan's news corporation and said that the investigations justify caution. "The demonstrators don't just want an end to the investigations, and they won't be satisfied with a result that they don't like," he said. "The attorney general is completely right in his extremely careful approach."

The Netanyahu investigation is likely to extend at least through the end of 2017, said sources in the legal system. The Holyland bribery case several years ago is a good indication of the time span for such matters.

It took seven months between the time the police presented its recommendations to indict the high-ranking officials, including then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and the decision to file an indictment. Even then, Olmert was entitled to a hearing before the indictment was filed. The entire process took nine months.

That case was supervised by Liat Ben-Ari and Jonathan Tadmor, the same attorneys from the State Prosecutor's Office who are overseeing Case 1000 and Case 2000, as they are known, against Netanyahu.

In two other cases against Olmert, the police recommended indicting the suspects on September 8, 2008. Two weeks later Olmert announced his resignation, and only in November of the same year did then-Attorney General Menachem Mazuz decide to indict Olmert in one of the cases (after allowing him a hearing first). Indictments were filed against Olmert in two other cases later.

After Netanyahu aides urged lawmakers from his Likud party to defend the prime minister on television, only coalition whip David Bitan and MK Amir Ohana complied. Bitan told Channel 2 that the state’s deal with Harow does not strengthen the case against Netanyahu. “The prime minister says he can deal with this and I believe him,” he said, adding that this will not lead to new elections.