Netanyahu, Defiant, Calls Bribery Case ‘Full of Holes, Like Swiss Cheese’

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JERUSALEM — Fighting back against a damning new allegation of corruption from the Israeli police and calls for his resignation, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Wednesday assailed investigators’ findings as biased and “full of holes, like Swiss cheese,” and vowed to serve to the end of his term in late 2019.

After a yearlong graft inquiry, the police recommended late Tuesday that Mr. Netanyahu face prosecution on bribery, fraud and breach-of-trust charges, saying there was evidence he had accepted nearly $ 300,000 in gifts in exchange for official actions benefiting his patrons, and had back-room dealings with the publisher of a leading newspaper to ensure more favorable coverage.

On Wednesday, Mr. Netanyahu used a late-morning appearance at a conference of local government officials in Tel Aviv to mount a detailed defense. He coolly hit back at the police, at a critical witness against him, and against political opponents and critics demanding that he resign or at least step aside while he is under investigation.

“The coalition is stable, and no one, me or anyone else, has plans to go to elections,” he said. “We will continue to work together with you for the citizens of the State of Israel, until the end of our term.”

“I read the recommendations report,” he continued. “I can say this is a slanted document, extreme, full of holes, like Swiss cheese, and holds no water.”

As a legal matter, the case now goes to state prosecutors and the attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, a onetime Netanyahu aide, who will decide whether to file formal charges. If Mr. Netanyahu is indicted, that would be a first for a sitting prime minister in Israel. Getting to that point, which would require a hearing at which Mr. Netanyahu’s lawyers could argue against indictment, could easily take months.

As a political matter, however, Mr. Netanyahu’s right-leaning governing coalition holds just 66 of 120 seats in Parliament, so any cracks in solidarity could quickly prove fatal.

But by noon Wednesday, two crucial partners had indicated that they would stay by Mr. Netanyahu’s side for the moment. The finance minister, Moshe Kahlon, whose center-right Kulanu party holds 10 seats, signaled late Tuesday that he would not make any decisions before the attorney general’s decision on whether to indict Mr. Netanyahu.

And on Wednesday, the education minister, Naftali Bennet, who leads the right-wing Jewish Home party, which has eight seats, said he would follow suit, saying that replacing the government “should be done at the voting station.”

But while defending Mr. Netanyahu’s management of the affairs of state, Mr. Bennet allowed that the police recommendations were “harsh” and called into question the prime minister’s ability “to be a leader and role model for the citizens of Israel.”

“A prime minister is not meant to be perfect or live an over-modest lifestyle, but he needs to be someone people look at and say, ‘This is how one should act,’ ” Mr. Bennet said. “Taking gifts in large sums over a long period of time is not living up to this standard.”

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NYT > Middle East

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