WASHINGTON – Prominent Democratic lawmakers and American-Jewish groups backed Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit's decision on Thursday to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three graft cases, linking it to the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.
Taking to Twitter, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, one of the leading candidates in the Democratic Party's presidential primary, compared Netanyahu's legal woes to those of the American president.
“Netanyahu is accused of accepting bribes, trading government favors, and manipulating a free press. Like his pal Donald Trump, he'll stop at nothing to enrich himself and stay in power,” Warren said, vowing to fight such “blatant corruption.”
Rep. John Yarmuth, a Jewish Democrat from Kentucky's 3rd Congressional District, echoed Warren's sentiments, saying that "Netanyahu indicted in the middle of President Trump’s Impeachment inquiry. Bad week for criminal heads of state."
Democratic Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut, meanwhile, reminded his supporters that “before he [Netanyahu] was indicted, he lost the election,” referring to Netanyahu's inability to gain a majority in the Knesset after the September 17 vote, while hinting at the 2020 U.S. presidential race.
In a rare statement, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, a Jewish umbrella organization that usually expresses support for the Israeli government, said: "No one is above the law. Israel has proven itself again to be a strong, vibrant democracy and holds even its top officials to account by the most stringent standards."
The pro-Israel group stated that “the announcements made today by Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit are obviously deeply disturbing," adding that "the State of Israel faces important decisions in the coming months as the legal process unfolds. The prime minister like all citizens is entitled to his day in court and to a fair and full process.”
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Netanyahu plans to try getting immunity from the Knesset in order to avoid standing trial, which at this point seems unlikely. Several Likud lawmakers issued statements stressing his right to a fair trial, reiterating that he's innocent until proven guilty, but none have so far come out in support of granting him immunity.
Netanyahu called the corruption charges filed against him "an attempted coup" against an acting prime minister, and that the process is meant to topple him.
"It's time to investigate the investigators, and the prosecution that authorizes these tainted investigations," the prime minister said on Thursday, following the attorney general's decision to indict him.
Mendelblit, as well as State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan and former Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, who led the inquiry into Netanyahu's corruption cases, were all appointed to their positions by the prime minister.
The premier's defense line that depicts the criminal investigations against him as a “coup,” while slamming law enforcement authorities, is reminiscent of Trump’s belligerent responses to the ongoing impeachment proceedings against him.
The Democratic Majority for Israel, a lobby group that advocates pro-Israel policies, responded by emphasizing the fact that in Israel, unlike in the United States, the country's leader can be charged with corruption. “The U.S. Justice Department says a sitting president cannot be indicted. In Israel, the sitting prime minster was just indicted. In Israel no one is above the law,” the organization stated.
American magazine Politico also made the connection between Netanyahu and Trump's legal situation by sending a newsletter on Thursday afternoon with the headline: “Trump’s man in Israel indicted on bribery and fraud charges.”
Trump and Netanyahu have nurtured a close relationship for the past three years. However, after Netanyahu failed to achieve a majority in the Knesset for the right-wing, religious bloc in the last election, Trump distanced himself from the prime minister by saying that “our relationship is with Israel” and not specifically with one person.
Earlier this week, Trump and Netanyahu spoke on the phone for the first time in more than two months, after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced on Monday that West Bank settlements don't violate international law.
While Netanyahu mentioned the conversation on Twitter, the White House did not release an official readout of the call, during which Netanyahu thanked Trump for softening the U.S. position on Israeli settlements.