On primetime TV, Netanyahu ramps up criticism of graft probes

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivering a statement live at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem on Jan 7, 2019.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivering a statement live at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem on Jan 7, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

JERUSALEM (AFP) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ramped up criticism of corruption investigations threatening his indictment in a statement on live, primetime television Monday (Jan 7), three months ahead of elections.

Netanyahu's Likud party had promoted the statement by saying it would be "dramatic," but the appearance by the prime minister, speaking from his official residence with two Israeli flags behind him, was limited to arguing that the investigations against him are biased.

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

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.

Israeli elections are meanwhile scheduled for April 9.

Netanyahu said in his statement that he had requested he be allowed to confront the state's witnesses as part of the legal process in the investigation, but was turned down.

He said he was renewing his request to do so, and also said he would be willing to do it live for the public to see.


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

"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 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 criticise 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.

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.

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

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