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On primetime TV, Netanyahu ramps up criticism of graft probes

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is investigating the police recommendations urging Netanyahu's indictment for bribery in three separate cases -- dubbed Cases 1000, 2000, and 4000.
(AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
Opposition figures harshly criticized the statement as stunt, saying it was time for Netanyahu to be defeated

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered what his Likud party originally announced as a “dramatic” statement to the nation Monday evening but quickly corrected to “important” as he defended himself against the corruption probes embroiling him ahead of the snap elections in April.  

"Citizens of Israel, this evening I will reveal to you information that you did not know to prove the extent to which the investigation against me is biased," Netanyahu said, before laying out his claims.

The prime minister took the opportunity to call out the legal systems in Israel that he claimed were being used to perpetrate an injustice against him, decrying that he was twice refused the ability to confront the state witnesses in the cases.

“Today, I reveal to you that during my investigations, I demanded a face-to-face confrontation with states witnesses. I was refused. I asked again. I was refused again,” he told his captive national audience.

Reiterating the request, Netanyahu renewed his call, adding that he was ready to engage in a confrontation with the witnesses on air.

“Today, I repeat that demand, and as far as I am concerned, it should be on live television.”

He also claimed that key witnesses who could refute the allegations against him were not called.

Abir Sultan (Pool/AFP/File)

The Ministry of Justice immediately responded to Netanyahu’s statement, defending its process and saying that it was inappropriate to discuss the investigations publicly.

“It is inappropriate for law enforcement authorities to relate to the investigative activities and the testimonies in the media, certainly not at this stage,” the ministry said defending itself.

Police authorities responded by saying that Netanyahu’s confronting witnesses would have been unproductive, claiming there was substantial evidence outside of the their testimonies.

“We have enough evidence and documents to strengthen the evidence in the case. We are not talking about a specific incident at a given time, in a given place, or something similar to someone’s word versus somebody else’s word. A confrontation would not have changed the general picture in this case,” they said according to the Israeli news website Ynet.

Police have recommended Netanyahu's indictment in three separate corruption investigations and the attorney general is expected to announce his decision on whether to indict the prime minister in the weeks or months ahead.

Opposition figures harshly criticized the statement as a stunt and said it was time for Netanyahu to be defeated.

“In a normal country, a prime minister does not behave this way. In a normal country, the prime minister does not attack the law enforcement authorities,” Labor leader Avi Gabbay said following Netanyahu’s primetime statement. “Instead of dealing with the security of the residents of the south, the cost of living, or the health system collapsing, Netanyahu is busy rescuing himself from the investigations.”

"Netanyahu is no longer qualified to fulfill his role," opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich said, calling the speech a "fake drama".

MENAHEM KAHANA (AFP/File)

The prime minister has faced widespread criticism in recent days for his efforts to publicly urge the attorney general not to issue his decision on indictments before the elections.

In his Monday speech, he said he has the right to criticize the legal proceedings and again argued that the attorney general moving to indict him before elections would be unjust.

If the attorney general does so, Netanyahu would be entitled to a pre-indictment hearing as a last chance to defend himself before charges are filed, and he says such a hearing would never be completed before the elections.

Under Netanyahu's argument, the elections would then be held without him having sufficient time to defend himself.

The statement piqued intense speculation on Monday over other potential security or foreign affair issues, such as the possible US recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which Israel annexed from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Many analysts say Netanyahu pushed for snap polls in April -- seven months before they are due -- to be able to combat potential charges with a fresh electoral mandate.

That would allow him to argue, as he did on Monday, that the allegations against him are the result of a plot by his political enemies to force him from office against voters' will.

Polls show Netanyahu is likely to win despite the investigations, but a decision to indict him before the elections could shake up the campaign.

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