Netanyahu takes aim at graft probes ahead of Israel polls

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem January 6, 2019. (Reuters)
Updated 07 January 2019
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Netanyahu takes aim at graft probes ahead of Israel polls

  • Netanyahu has spoken out against the possibility that the attorney general will announce his decision on whether to indict him before April 9 elections
  • The prime minister, facing possible indictment in three separate probes, says he has no intention of resigning if called in for such a hearing before the vote

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has in recent days taken aim at what seems to be his main opponent ahead of upcoming elections: corruption investigations that may lead to his indictment.
In a widely criticized social media video at the weekend and elsewhere, Netanyahu has spoken out against the possibility that the attorney general will announce his decision on whether to indict him before April 9 elections.
Polls show the premier is likely to win despite the investigations hanging over him, but a move to indict him pending a hearing could shake up the campaign.
With that in mind, he has publicly urged the attorney general to postpone his announcement, leading to criticism that his comments are out of bounds.
After his video on Saturday, former supreme court justice Eliyahu Matza compared Netanyahu’s rhetoric to that of a crime boss.
In the video, Netanyahu stands before a map of the Middle East, smiling as if recounting a joke, and refers to amputation as punishment in certain countries.
He says that a man who has his arm cut off following a conviction for stealing cannot get it back after winning on appeal — hinting that polls influenced by a hearing in the graft cases against him could similary not be undone.
“You don’t start a hearing before the elections if you can’t conclude it before the elections,” he says.
The pre-indictment hearing is a key step in Israel’s judicial process.
If Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announces his intention to indict him, Netanyahu gets a final chance to defend himself in a hearing before the charges are filed.
The prime minister, facing possible indictment in three separate probes, says he has no intention of resigning if called in for such a hearing before the vote.
Netanyahu pushed for polls in April — seven months before they are due — because he would like to combat potential charges with a fresh electoral mandate, according to many analysts.
That strategy would allow Netanyahu, who denies all allegations against him, to argue that the investigations are the result of a political plot by his enemies to force him from office against voters’ will.
For that reason, Netanyahu’s argument that the attorney general must wait until after April 9 does not hold water, said Reuven Hazan of Hebrew University’s political science department.
“It’s a completely ludicrous argument because Netanyahu called the early elections in order to try to avoid a decision in the midst of an election campaign,” he said.
“So if Netanyahu is allowed to throw Israel into an election campaign in order to try to circumvent the attorney general, then the attorney general adhering to the legal rules of the game is not something that Netanyahu can throw back at him.”
The pressure on the attorney general is immense.
He has remained largely silent, saying only that his office is working to conclude the investigations as quickly as possible.
Graffiti was recently sprayed in northern Israel calling Mandelblit a “collaborator,” and his father’s grave was also vandalized, though it was unclear if the incidents were connected, according to Israeli media.
Netanyahu’s political allies have ramped up arguments in support of him, while opposition figures — and at least one minister in his current government — insist he must step down if indicted.
A prime minister is not legally required to resign if charged — only after convicted with appeals exhausted.
Winning would put Netanyahu on track to surpass founding father David Ben-Gurion as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.
Yair Lapid, head of centrist opposition party Yesh Atid, distributed his own video mocking Netanyahu.
“The prime minister of Israel thinks we’re in Saudi Arabia,” Lapid said, arguing he should not run if indicted.
While Netanyahu may win no matter what the attorney general decides, future coalition partners will face the choice of whether to stick with him as the case takes its course.
Netanyahu supporters may also have to reconsider if “overwhelming evidence” against the premier makes it difficult for him to remain in office, Hazan said.
“They will begin to realize that once there is an indictment and the legal process begins, if there is overwhelming evidence, then this will be the last time that he is elected,” he said.
Under that scenario, Hazan said, “he’s going down — the question is when and the question is will that impact their vote now knowing that they’re not getting another full tenure with Netanyahu at the helm.”


Sudan security forces tear gas protesters in Omdurman

Updated 14 min 31 sec ago
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Sudan security forces tear gas protesters in Omdurman

  • The mushrooming protests are widely seen as the biggest threat to Bashir’s rule
  • Protesters described using medical masks soaked in vinegar to fend off tear gas

KHARTOUM: Sudanese police fired tear gas at crowds of demonstrators in the capital’s twin city Omdurman on Tuesday protesting against the fatal wounding of a demonstrator last week, witnesses said.

The demonstration, which came ahead of planned nighttime rallies in both Omdurman and Khartoum just across the Nile, was the latest in more than a month of escalating protests against the three-decade rule of President Omar Bashir.

Bashir has made defiant appearances at loyalist rallies in Khartoum and other cities.

Chanting “overthrow, overthrow” and “freedom, peace and justice,” the catchword slogans of the protest movement, the demonstrators had gathered near the home of their dead comrade.

The doctors’ branch of the Sudanese Professionals’ Association (SPA) said he had died on Monday from wounds sustained when demonstrators clashed with security forces in Khartoum on Thursday.

The SPA has taken the lead in organizing the protests after hundreds of opposition activists were detained, and its doctors’ branch has taken casualties.

Human rights groups say that several medics have been among more than 40 people killed in clashes with the security forces since the protests erupted on Dec. 19, 2018.

The authorities say 26 people have been killed, including at least one doctor, but blame rebel provocateurs they say have infiltrated the protesters’ ranks.

The mushrooming protests are widely seen as the biggest threat to Bashir’s rule since he took power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989.

Triggered by the government’s tripling of the price of bread, which brought demonstrators onto the streets of the eastern farming hub of Atbara and other provincial towns, the protests rapidly spread to the metropolis and other big cities as people vented their anger against the government.

A chronic shortage of foreign currency since the breakaway of South Sudan in 2011 deprived the government of most of its oil revenues, has stoked spiraling inflation and widespread shortages.

Bashir has survived previous protest movements in September 2013 and January last year.

But his efforts to blame the US for Sudan’s economic woes have fallen on increasingly deaf ears as people have struggled to buy even basic foods and medicines.

“I am tired of prices going up every minute and standing up in bread lines for hours only for the bakery’s owner to decide how many loaves I can buy,” a 42-year-old woman, Fatima, said during protests last week on the outskirts of the capital of Khartoum.

Fatima and others speaking to the AP would not provide their full names, insisting on anonymity because they fear reprisals by the authorities.

Protesters described using medical masks soaked in vinegar or yeast and tree leaves to fend off tear gas. They said they try to fatigue police by staging nighttime flash protests in residential alleys unfamiliar to the security forces.

“We have used tactics employed by the Egyptians, Tunisians and Syrians but we have so far refrained from pelting security forces with rocks or firebombs,” said Ashraf, another demonstrator.

They said there was little they can do about live ammunition except to keep medics and doctors close by to administer first aid to casualties.

They also described checking paths of planned protests to identify escape routes and potential ambushes by police. Some of their slogans are borrowed from the Arab Spring days, like “the people want to bring down the regime.”