If his political enemies hoped that the news that Prime Minister Binymin Netanyahu would sway Likud members away from supporting him – and to supporting Benny Gantz in his bid for the prime minister’s office – they may be sorely disappointed. After initial silence Thursday evening, the majority of Likud MKs had spoken out by Friday morning in defense of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
In a social media post Friday,Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said that he supported Netanyahu “during these difficult times. Israel is a state of laws and all people are innocent until proven guilty, certainly Binyamin Netanyahu, an Israeli patriot who has worked his entire life for the security of Israel and strengthening its position in the world.”
There was also no question that Netanyahu would remain prime minister. “His political enemies need to realize that according to the law there is no reason Netanyahu cannot continue as prime minister as long as he has not been convicted of any crime. The public will make its decision on who should lead the country in a democratic manner,” Katz said.
Justice Minister Amir Ohana also expressed support for Netanyahu. In a social media post Friday, Ohana said that Netanyahu “is not guilty, according to the law. In this country, a person’s guilt must be proven in court, not in the studios of the media or social media networks, and not even in the prosecutor’s office. I have seen many indictments fall by the wayside. A long list of public servants fought indictments, and they won. I have absolutely no doubts in saying this: Binyamin Netanyahu is not a corrupt individual.”
Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis said “from my acquaintance with Netanyahu for 25 years, which have known its ups and downs, I can say that I strengthen the hand of the prime minister during these times. I appreciate his contributions to the country. According to the law, a person is innocent until proven guilty in court.”
Government minister Ze’ev Elkin told Reshet Bet that Netanyahu “feels that a terrible injustice has been done to him. From a moral point of view, judging Netanyahu based on an indictment is improper. The only body that can decide on a person’s guilt is a court.”
In remarks after the statement by State Attorney Avichai Mandelblit that he would recommend the issuance of indictments against Netanyahu in three corruption cases the prime minister has been implicated in, Netanyahu demanded to know why he was being singled out for investigation and indictment.
“There were 43 MKs who supported the bill to close down Yisrael Hayom,” he said Thursday night, referring to the main accusation in Case 2000, in which he was to be charged with breach of trust. “Not one of them was questioned even once regarding the positive coverage they got in other news outlets that could possibly have been in exchange for that support. Only one person was investigated for that – guess who.”
Regarding the main allegations of bribery in Case 4000, in which Netanyahu is accused of helping Israeli billionaire Shaul Elovich in a business deal in exchange for positive coverage on the Walla news site, Netanyahu said that “in the history of this country, there is no one whose blood has been spilled in the media like mine – everyone knows this. And they accuse me of getting positive coverage? Where and when? The entire thing is ridiculous.”
Speaking Thursday, Netanyahu rival MK Gideon Saar said that he believed he could form a government, and wanted an opportunity to lead the party by challenging Netanyahu in a party primary. On Thursday night, Kan News reported that a second Likud MK – who had chosen to remain anonymous for now – was also interested in challenging Netanyahu.
But speaking to Army Radio Friday, Likud Knesset whip MK Miki Zohar said that primary or not, there was no chance anyone would challenge Netanyahu. “No Likud MK would dare rise up against him. They can try to campaign against him in a primary but they will lose. In the next election, it is the public that will determine Netanyahu’s fate,” he said.