Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has shrugged off police recommendations that he be charged with corruption, calling the allegations “biased, extreme, full of holes, like Swiss cheese” and vowed to remain in office.
Speaking at a local government meeting in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, Mr Netanyahu said his government remains stable despite the police announcement, and “the truth will come to light and nothing will come of this”.
Israeli opposition leaders have called on Mr Netanyahu to step down but the long-time premier angrily rejected those calls as well.
The police announcement late on Tuesday that Mr Netanyahu accepted nearly 300,000 US dollars in gifts from two billionaires dealt the embattled prime minister an embarrassing blow after years of investigations, but did not appear to immediately rattle his rule as reaction largely fell along partisan lines.
Nearly all of Mr Netanyahu’s Cabinet ministers issued statements of support and no coalition partners appeared ready to bolt. Mr Netanyahu’s coalition whip, David Amsalem, accused the police of committing “an illegitimate act here to attempt a coup d’etat in Israel”.
Opposition politicians, meanwhile, urged Mr Netanyahu’s coalition allies to abandon his government.
Labour Party leader Avi Gabbay said finance minister Moshe Kahlon and education minister Naftali Bennett, leaders of two of the larger parties in Mr Netanyahu’s coalition, need to choose between supporting the prime minister and upholding the rule of law.
“I think it’s clear here that this government needs to go to elections. It can’t be that this government continues as is,” Mr Gabbay told Israel’s Army Radio. “A prime minister that busies himself with attacking his police and law enforcement is simply attacking himself, attacking the country.”
“There’s really a government culture of corruption,” he added.
The police recommendations now go to attorney general Avihai Mandelblit, who will review the material before deciding whether to file charges. Mr Netanyahu can remain in office during that process, which is expected to drag on for months.
On Tuesday night, Mr Netanyahu accused police of being on a witch hunt and vowed to remain in office and even seek re-election.
“I will continue to lead the state of Israel responsibly and loyally as long as you, the citizens of Israel, choose me to lead you,” an ashen-faced Mr Netanyahu said in a televised address.
The police recommendations marked a dramatic ending to a more than a yearlong investigation into allegations that Mr Netanyahu accepted gifts from Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer, and suspicions that he offered to give preferential treatment to a newspaper publisher in exchange for favourable coverage.