Netanyahu's 'Dramatic Statement': I Asked to Face State's Witnesses and Was Refused Twice

'I'm willing to do it on live TV,' Netanyahu says, claiming he has 'nothing to lose' and demanding to be confronted with witnesses in probes against him

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his residence, speaking in a televised statement, January 7, 2019.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke out on Monday evening in a televised address, saying that he requested to face state's witnesses in the corruption probes against him and was denied twice. 

In an addressed billed ahead of time as a "dramatic statement" Netanyahu said: "What are they afraid of? I’m not afraid, I have nothing to lose." He added that he's willing to confront the witnesses on live TV.

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A confrontation between witnesses serves as a police tool to resolve conflicting testimonies. Police is not obligated to hold a confrontation between the accused and a central witness testifying against him, and police and prosecution make the final call.

In Case 4000, in which Netanyahu is accused of providing assistance to a major telecommunications firm in exchange for favorable media coverage, many witnesses have confronted each other, including Shaul Elovitch with state's evidence Nir Hefetz and Shlomo Filber. Elovitch was also confronted with Ilan Yeshua, considered a central witness against him.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was not confronted with Shula Zaken when she turned state's evidence against him.

It has been reported in the past that Sara Netanyahu refused to be confronted with Filber and Hefetz.

"I am repeating my request tonight to confront state’s witnesses, I’m willing for it to be live streamed for the public to hear the full truth. I’m confident in my truth," he said. 

"This is not an attack on the legal system," Netanyahu promised in the address, and called the investigation against him "biased."

"How can you find the truth when they won’t let me confront the witnesses?" he asked, adding: "The charges are a joke."

The Justice Ministry issued an official statement in the wake of Netanyahu's address, saying: "All the interrogations that were carried out in the probes pertaining the prime minister were done in a professional manner and with the accompaniment of the Tel Aviv Prosecutor's Office as well as the state prosecutor and the attorney general. Everything was done according to professional considerations that lead the management of an investigation to seek out the truth."

The statement went on to say that it was "inappropriate for law enforcement to comment on interrogations and details on testimonies in the media, certainly not at this stage. The examination of the conclusions drawn in the investigation is currently being undertaken by the attorney general, the state prosecutor and their team in an organized and professional process, which isn't and shouldn't be run in the media."

Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg blasted Netanyahu for his statement, saying: "We have a prime minister who still serves under a recommendation to indict him for three cases of bribery. Until Netanyahu resigns, this is election propaganda that is not fit to be aired on television."

Labor chairman Avi Gabbay also went after the premier, saying that "in a normal country, the prime minister doesn't attack the authorities. Instead of dealing with the safety of the south's residents, the cost of living or the collapsing health system, Netanyahu is busy saving himself from the interrogations."

Gabbay also called on Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid (who Netanyahu said in his statement ought to be interrogated) and former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, who is considered a main Netanyahu challenger, to put up a fight. "You saw Netanyahu attack again wildly the authorities. I'm telling you here: We cannot be partners to this."

Hatnuah chairwoman Tzipi Livni called Netanyahu's statement "another obvious attempt to postpone justice-making in Israel in a victim-like, hysterical attack on law enforcement for his personal needs."

Opposition leader Shelly Yacimovitch stated that in light of his remarks, "the prime minister is no longer fit to serve in his role. We watched a cynical and lame campaign speech, of someone who is trying with all his might to escape the verdict... this is a blatant and bold intervention by Netanyahu in his legal process, while creating fake drama over nothing."

In recent days, the premier has been handling all issues regarding his election campaign with utter secrecy and his spokespeople are refusing to respond to questions such as who will be the lawyer representing the campaign.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit is expected to make a decision on whether to charge Netanyahu in the three criminal investigations pending against the prime minister before the April 9 Knesset election and will announce his decision next month, a source close to Mendelblit has told Haaretz. 

Attorney general's decision

Amid speculation as to how the decision might affect the election, and criticism from Netanyahu, who said he would not resign if summoned for a pre-indictment hearing, the attorney general has received backing from senior Justice Ministry officials and from his own predecessors in his efforts to make a decision before the election.

These backers said they believe it is Mendelblit’s obligation to made the decision public before the election. Mendelblit added that there was “nothing to prevent” the prime minister from serving in office prior to a pre-indictment hearing if it is decided to file charges against Netanyahu. For his part, late last month, Netanyahu, said: “It’s inconceivable that a hearing against me will be launched before the election and it will end after it.”

One of the cases against the prime minister, dubbed Case 1000, involves allegations that the prime minister accepted gifts from wealthy business figures in violation of the law.

A second case, Case 2000, centers on discussions between the prime minister and Arnon Mozes, the publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, allegedly involving favorable news coverage for the prime minister in exchange for government policies benefitting Yedioth.

The third case, Case 4000, involves allegations that Netanyahu provided regulatory concessions to the controlling shareholder at the time of the Bezeq telecommunications firm in exchange for favorable coverage from Bezeq’s news website, Walla. The prime minister denies any wrongdoing in the cases.

Mendelblit began marathon meetings on the cases about two weeks ago. Deliberations on Case 1000 took two weeks and have concluded. On Sunday discussions are expected to begin on Case 2000, to be followed by Case 4000. In Case 1000, Mendelblit is reportedly inclined to indict the prime minister for fraud and breach of trust.