Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's refusal to step down despite being a suspect in criminal investigations is a testimony to the problematic “political culture” in Israel, a former minister says.
Moshe Ya'alon, Israel's former minister of military affairs, said Netanyahu “should have resigned a while ago” as a result of the ongoing criminal investigations against him, The Times of Israel reported.
“This is a matter of political culture, obviously there is no smoke without fire,” he said in remarks at a cultural event in the northern Israel city of Afula on Saturday.
Under Israeli law, a prime minister does not need to step down if indicted and can continue to serve as premier during the duration of a trial.
Ya'alon said in Israel “someone in the past gave himself immunity and passed legislation that a prime minister does not need to resign.”
The Israeli premier is under probe over charges that he had accepted highly-valued gifts lavished upon him by billionaires and entered a deal with the Yedioth Ahronoth paper ensuring more favorable coverage of his political career.
Netanyahu’s allies have said they would support him continuing to serve as prime minister even if either of the criminal investigations against him, which are known as Case 1000 and Case 2000, leads to an indictment.
Case 1000 involves alleged illicit gifts given to Netanyahu and his family from billionaires, including Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan.
Most notably, the gifts include hundreds of thousands of shekels’ worth of cigars and champagne, which Netanyahu and his wife Sarah have played down as mere “trifles” exchanged between close friends.
Case 2000 is focused on an alleged clandestine deal under which Netanyahu has accepted to advance legislation to reduce the circulation of Yedioth’s main commercial rival in exchange for friendlier coverage from the newspaper.
Every Israeli prime minister in the last 20 years has been embroiled in graft scandals, including Ehud Olmert and Ariel Sharon. Dozens of cabinet ministers, Knesset members and mayors have also been the subject of graft investigations.
Netanyahu has been the subject of criminal investigations before. During his first term as prime minister in 1997, he was accused of appointing an attorney general who would offer favorable treatment to a political ally. Police then recommended charging Netanyahu, but prosecutors declined to file charges.
Two years later, Netanyahu was again investigated for fraud, this time for accusations involving a government contractor but once again, he was not charged.
Sharon was accused of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes in the late 1990s and prosecutors recommended bringing charges against him, but the attorney general prevented it.
Ehud Olmert is currently serving a 19-month prison sentence for fraud and breach of trust in a 2012 scandal and then another for taking bribes in 2015.
Israeli minister of military affairs Avigdor Lieberman has been interrogated over money laundering, fraud, and breach of trust in a long-running corruption probe that still resurfaces in the Israeli news.
The most high-profile scandal, however, involved former president Moshe Katsav who was released from prison last December after serving five years of his seven-year sentence for rape and other sexual offenses.