Netanyahu: Police Recommendations Are Biased and Extreme, Ruling Coalition Not Going Anywhere

'Police document has holes like Swiss cheese,' says the prime minister. Netanyahu's lawyer insists gifts from tycoons were gestures of friendship and 'never felt like the amount of a million shekels'

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Jan. 28, 2018
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Jan. 28, 2018Credit: Tsafrir Abayov/AP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded Wednesday to police recommendations to indict him for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two cases. The police document, he said, is "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.

Netanyahu also assailed Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid who, as a former finance minister under Netanyahu, was revealed to be a key witness in one of the cases. The prime minister questioned how it is that "Lapid seems to hold the key [ to the investigation], the same Lapid who declared that he would bring me down and who is a close friend of Milchan and was hired by him."

Minister of Education and Netanyahu's ruling Israeli coalition partner Naftali Bennett said Wednesday. "Receiving gifts on such a large scale for so long does not match the expectations of the citizens of Israel."

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Meanwhile, Netanyahu's lawyer Amit Hadad charged that the police had inflated the math, claiming the "million shekels" in alleged bribes was blown out of proportion. "In real time it felt to the prime minister like a relationship in which a friend gives him cigars," Hadad said, speaking on Kan television on Wednesday. "It never felt like the amount of a million shekels."

In response to the police recommendation that the prime minister be charged with corruption, Hadad insisted that there were no bribes, but merely expressions of friendship between Netanyahu and his two friends - Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Australian businessman James Packer.

"He didn't take any bribes at all. The police are ignoring [the fact] that there were mutual gifts – true, not identical in scope. [They are ignoring] that their friendship ran so deep," said Netanyahu's lawyer.

On Tuesday, police released their recommendations to indict the prime minister on charges of corruption, citing sufficient evidence that Netanyahu took bribes in two separate cases and acted "against public interests."

The two cases are the so-called Case 1000 – in which Netanyahu is suspected of accepting lavish gifts from wealthy benefactors in return for advancing their interests – and Case 2000, which alleges that Netanyahu tried to strike a deal that would have provided him with positive coverage in Israel's second largest newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, in exchange for hurting its free rival, Israel Hayom.

Hadad acknowledged that Netanyahu had accepted gifts from Milchan and  Packer, but said the amounts involved were "much much smaller" than the police stated.

Asked if he had the tools to know just what the numbers really were, Hadad said yes. "Half a million?" he was asked. "Less than half a million," he answered. "Three hundred thousand? Three shekels?" the interviewers pressed, to which he replied, "I don't know."

Hadad also denied the police allegations that Netanyahu promoted a bill that would give tax breaks to repatriating Israelis who had been overseas for more than 10 years, an initiative torpedoed by Yair Lapid as finance minister. Passage of the bill would have helped Milchan. "If anything the one who was involved in that bill was Lapid," Hadad claimed, referring to the Yesh Atid leader, noting that Lapid was "Milchan's good buddy."

Lapid is considered the most likely candidate to defeat Netanyahu's Likud party in elections. 

After the police announced their recommendations on Tuesday, Netanyahu addressed the public in a live broadcast at 8:45 P.M., saying that he has worked for Israel all his life and vowing to remain the country's prime minister.

Netanyahu maintains he did nothing wrong, claiming on numerous occassions that "there will be nothing, because there is nothing."

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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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