PM Netanyahu Leaves Helm of Communications Ministry

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters) -
Minister Tzachi Hanegbi. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced Friday he would shelve his additional role as communication minister after police questioned him over allegations he negotiated a deal for good press coverage with a newspaper owner.

Police have questioned PM Netanyahu three times in two criminal cases in which he is suspected of abuse of office. If charges are brought, political upheaval would likely ensue with pressure on the prime minister, who denies any wrongdoing, to step down.

The first case involves gifts given to Netanyahu and his family by businessmen, and the second is related to conversations he held with the publisher of Israel’s largest selling newspaper, Yediot Acharonot.

Netanyahu said he would appoint Tzachi Hanegbi, a confidant from the Likud, as a stand-in to run the communications ministry for three months, “and then we’ll see,” he said in a statement issued to reporters.

Netanyahu did not specify the reason for the move.

In the past, Israeli prime ministers have stayed in office long after being put under investigation, and officials who support Netanyahu, now in his fourth term, believe the prospect of charges remains remote.

PM Netanyahu has often accused Israeli media of being biased against him and in recent weeks accused it of being part of a left-wing plot to overthrow his right-wing government.