Benny Gantz addressed on Thursday evening Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit's decision to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, pending a hearing.
Gantz, who heads the political alliance Kahol Lavan along with Yair Lapid, vowed to refrain from forming a coalition with Netanyahu and called on him to resign.
"Mr. Netanyahu, this country is dear to us and I am sure that it is also dear to you. You have the power to stop this. People of Israel, sitting with Netanyahu in the same government cannot happen. I call on you, Netanyahu, to show responsibility and to resign from you position," Gantz said.
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Gantz called on Netanyahu to "stop personal attacks on people you have appointed yourself," referencing Netanyahu's criticism of law enforcement and the legal system.
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The ex-general also accused Netanyahu of choosing to "tread a path isn't appropriate for the prime minister. Instead of choosing what is good for the people, you chose what is good for yourself.
Gantz noted that Israel was in a bad state if the attorney general decides to charge with bribery the person at its helm. An evening when the attorney general decides... is a harsh evening for every Israeli patriot. Whoever holds the country dear is sad on this evening and I, too, am not happy as his political rival."
Yair Lapid, co-leader of Kahol Lavan, also called on Netanyahu to resign and hand over leadership of Likud to another politician. In a statement released shortly after Gantz's press conference, he said "Netanyahu can't carry on" as prime minister. "It disrespects us in the world."
Following Mendelblit's announcement, Netanyahu's Likud party released a statement and slammed the decision. "No one is surprised by the announcement of the attorney general, which came after three years of enormous pressures that were laid against him to file an indictment at any price – even when there is nothing. Just to do it before the election."
The Likud went on to state: "This is political persecution. The campaign against the prime minister began with an attempt to accuse him of four corruption cases. Even now, before the hearing, three of them have collapsed. The rest of the claims will also collapse like a house of cards when the prime minister faces state's witnesses, brings forward dozens of witnesses who have oddly not been interrogated and produces the documents and protocols that prove that all of his actions and decisions were done according to law."
The statement went on to blast the attorney general for the timing of the decision. "A publication of the decision a mere month before the election, without giving the prime minister an opportunity to refute these false claims is a blatant and unprecedented interference in the election. It has one goal: to topple the right-wing government headed by Netanyahu so as to give rise to a left-wing government headed by Lapid and Gantz. We cannot let this happen."
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan also responded to the recommendation by the attorney general, specifically to the part in which he is embroiled.
"As opposed to the draft indictment, the prime minister didn't ask me to be attentive to the claims by Bezeq or tried to influence my position on the wholesale [communications] market reform,” Erdan said. “The only question I’d been asked by the prime minister was whether Bezeq had been allowed to state its position to the Communications Ministry during the formation of the reform.”
The far-right alliance Union of the Right-Wing Parties, which evoked criticism in Israel and abroad when it was created at Netanyahu's urging several weeks ago, came to the prime minister's defense. "Every person, including Benjamin Netanyahu, is innocent until proven otherwise and that's why our ticket will recommend after the election to choose Netanyahu as the candidate to lead a strong and stable right-wing government."
Ultra-Orthodox party Shas also said it backed the prime minister. "As we announced from the very beginning, Shas will only support Benjamin Netanyahu for the premiership and recommend to the president that he be chosen to put together the next government. Netanyahu is the most suitable person to lead the country at this time and we will support him as long as the law permits him to serve as prime minister."
Hayamin Hehadash, the new right-wing party formed by Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, stated that it "respected the attorney general's decision" but that it will "wait until the end of the hearing and still would recommend Netanyahu as head of the new government."
'Netanyahu has to be in jail'
Besides Gantz, other center and left-wing parties also welcomed the announcement by the attorney general. Labor Chairman Avi Gabbay said: "Netanyahu, resign, put an end to the national shame and don't run this battle from the Prime Minister's Residence."
Gabbay added: "Netanyahu is shaming the State of Israel. He is ruining everything in order to save himself. The people of Israel don't want a corrupt government."
Opposition leader Shelly Yacimovitch also went after Netanyahu. "Starting this moment, Netanyahu is fighting for his life and cannot fight for the lives of Israel's civilians. He is not fit to be prime minister, let alone run in the election."
She then called on Netanyahu "to go cleanse himself without dragging an entire country behind him."
Labor Party later said in a statement: "Welcome, Benny. We're glad you've joined Labor's commitment to a governmental turnover. We've been telling you all along: Don't sit with Netanyahu. Replace Netanyahu."
Left-wing party Meretz said it will initiate a special Knesset session while the Israeli parliament is on a break to discuss Mendelblit's decision. "We are talking about a prime minister who is corrupt to the core and who is bending the entire public system for his own personal survival," the party's chairwoman, Tamar Zandberg, said. "Now his deal with the Khanaists has also been made clear: A deal for the corrupt in return for a spot in the judicial appointments committee."
MK Ayman Odeh, chairman of Hadash-Ta'al, said that "Netanyahu has to be in jail. The amount of incitement he leads against the Arab population, the way he marks the left in Israel as traitors… this is all meant to disguise his corrupt policy. The thing at the top of Netanyahu's priorities is himself only, certainly not the citizens."