Netanyahu's Centrist Coalition Partner Risks Being Torn Apart Over Criminal Probes Against Him

Sources in Finance Minister Kahlon's Kulanu party say he fears that some of its Knesset members could bolt if the police recommend indicting Netanyahu

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
Moshe Kahlon at a meeting of his Kulanu Knesset faction
Moshe Kahlon at a meeting of his Kulanu Knesset faction, Oct. 30, 2017.Credit: Emil Salman
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

Finance Minister and Kulanu party leader Moshe Kahlon is deeply concerned about the recommendations that the police are expected to make shortly over whether to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in two pending criminal investigations. Kahlon understands that, if there is a recommendation to indict the prime minister, Knesset members from centrist Kulanu party could bolt the government coalition in protest at government corruption, Kahlon's associates have told Haaretz.

If Kulanu Knesset members such as Rachel Azaria or Eli Alalouf announce that they are leaving the coalition, it could paint Kahlon as someone who is not in control of his own party and might even lead to the breakup of the party, the sources said.

In the period since Likud Knesset member David Amsalem introduced a Knesset bill that would bar the police from issuing indictment recommendations in cases of high-profile people such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Kulanu has been in internal turmoil. Netanyahu is currently the subject of two police investigations, and at first, Kahlon said Kulanu would not support the bill, known at the police recommendations bill, because it was designed for the benefit of a specific person, the prime minister.

Later Kahlon reversed course. In the end, the prime minister was compelled to ask that the legislation be drafted in a way that he himself would not benefit from it.

Now Kulanu’s Knesset members are waiting to see what the police will recommend about indicting Netanyahu. Kulanu is split into two camps on the corruption investigations against Netanyahu. The more critical camp includes Azaria, Alalouf, Merav Ben Ari and Roy Folkman. Among members of the other camp are Construction and Housing Minister Yoav Galant, Economy and Industry Minister Eli Cohen, Akram Hasoon and Tali Ploskov.

Last Saturday night, three Kulanu Knesset members, Azaria, Folkman and Ben Ari, participated in a right-wing protest against government corruption held at Zion Square in Jerusalem. As reported by Channel 10's Sefi Ovadia, on Monday, Kahlon asked that Kulanu's representatives keep quiet over the investigations against the prime minister.

Kulanu MKs told Haaretz that Kahlon was very angry that the party is being dragged into dealing with the affairs concerning Netanyahu instead of talking about the party and Kahlon’s economic and social achievements. One Kulanu MK said the actual wording of police recommendations in the prime minister's cases would be of major importance. “Everything depends on what they write,” said the MK, who asked to remain unnamed.

In one of the cases, known as Case 1000, the prime minister is being investigated over allegations that he and his family received lavish gifts over an extended period from high-profile individuals including Israeli Hollywood entertainment executive Arnon Milchan. In Case 2000, the other matter, he is being investigated over conversations with Arnon Mozes, the publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, regarding the pair's alleged discussions regarding possible steps that Netanyahu would take to benefit the daily in return for positive news coverage of the prime minister.

Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing in either case, saying that the items that he received in Case 1000 were from friends and that he had no intention to follow through in the discussions with Mozes.

As far as Kahlon is concerned, the problem is that even if the government collapses and new elections are held, it is possible that Netanyahu will be reelected prime minister and then the question will be how Kahlon would be willing to again in a government with an allegedly corrupt prime minister.

“In a civilized world, they would deal with the Netanyahu problem inside Likud, and we would continue to serve in the government under a different prime minister," another Kulanu official said, "but the Likud won’t do anything. That’s the problem. All the responsibility is on us. The criticism is about us, and it is uncertain that there is anything we can do. This is the situation Moshe [Kahlon] hates the most to be in, without a good card hidden up his sleeve.”

The Kulanu party said in response for this story that the claims are “all lies and slander whose only connection to reality is completely coincidental.”

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