Israeli Coalition Partner Bennett Backs Netanyahu, but Says: Leader of Jewish State Should Not Get Gifts From Billionaires

As Netanyahu's leading coalition partner, Bennett's potential pullout from the government would effectively collapse the government

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Naftali Benett and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 2016.
Naftali Benett and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 2016.Credit: Emil Salman

Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Wednesday in response to police recommendations to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that "receiving gifts on such a large scale for so long does not meet the expectations of the citizens of Israel."

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Police released their recommendations to indict the prime minister on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, citing sufficient evidence that Netanyahu took bribes in two separate cases and acted "against public interests."

Netanyahu called the police recommendations Wednesday "biased, extreme and has holes like Swiss cheese." According to Netanyahu, his ruling coalition is stable, and he has no intention of calling an early election.  

As head of the Habayit Hayehudi party, Bennett's withdrawal from the coalition would collapse the government. 

"The State of Israel is not a corrupt state, nor has it become such in the eyes of newscasters," said Bennett. "We will continue to work for the citizens of Israel in managing the affairs of the state, an activity not dependent on any particular person. Because we have no other country."

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"The law of Israel is clear," he said. "It determines that the prime minister is allowed to continue in his post even after the police recommendations."

"The leader of the Jewish state simply should not accept gifts from billionaires," Bennett continued. "That's not how to educate a young generation, and that's not how we've been educated."

Meanwhile, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, another coalition partner, on Wednesday insisted that there was no reason for the prime minister to step down.

When asked whether Netanyahu could remain prime minister, Lieberman responded, "without a doubt."

"I think we should all understand the meaning -- if the prime minister is removed it is a coup d'etat. The prime minister is one among equals...and until the attorney general makes a decision [about whether to indict Netanayahu] I suggest we all act with restraint," said Lieberman, who head the Yisrael Beiteinu party in Netanyahu's coalition government.

"The presumption of innocence is accorded to every person, even to the prime minister. In our state there is one body that is authorized to determine whether a person is guilty or innocent, and it is not the media -- it's the court," added  Lieberman. 

Netanyahu's Likud party criticized on Tuesday the police's recommendations to charge him with bribery in two cases while members of the opposition hailed the "end of Netanyahu." 

Netanyahu responded in a late-night Facebook post, calling the claims "ludicrous" and saying the police chief's comments "cast a shadow" over the investigation. In the following days Netanyahu continued to criticize the police, including the head of the anti-fraud unit Lahav 433.

Tourism Minister Yariv Levin from Netanyahu's Likud party said the recommendations "exposed a coup against the voters."

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon wrote on Facebook that only the attorney general can make a decision regarding an indictment, and called for people from across the political spectrum to stop attacking the police and the rule of law. 

Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay said that "the Netanyahu era is over, whether at the ballot box or through investigations." He further added that the prime minister hurt the police and the rule of law by trying to limit the investigators and by encouraging public distrust in their conclusions.

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