by Andrew Friedman/TPS
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu pushed off a scheduled visit to France Thursday as burgeoning corruption scandals among his close associates threatened to destabilize the government.
The prime minister was scheduled to leave Friday afternoon for Paris in order to take part in a memorial service marking the 75th anniversary of the 1942 Vel d’Hiv roundup in which more than 13,000 Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps.
To deal with the crisis, Netanyahu summoned a cadre of his political allies, including Coalition Chairman MK David Bitan, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, Environment Minister Ze’ev Elkin, Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev and Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis, as well as MKs Miki Zohar and Amir Ohana and instructed them to defend him in the media.
“There’s an attempt to lynch me and a campaign against me,” Netanyahu is reported to have told the ministers and lawmakers. “They are trying to take me and the Likud down. Political elements are collaborating with the media.”
Wednesday, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira issued a report accusing Netanyahu of failing to reveal a conflict of interest with the telecommunications conglomerate Bezeq while he served as communications minister. The report came on the heels of a ballooning corruption scandal involving Bezeq’s majority shareholder, businessman Shaul Elovitch, a close associate of Netanyahu.
Trading in Bezeq shares was suspended briefly earlier this week as the Israel Securities Authority (ISA) said it was widening its corruption investigation into the company to include a deal between satellite operator Spacecom Satellite Communications and DBS Satellite Services (YES), a satellite television provider. Both companies are owned by Elovitch.
The ISA launched an investigation into Bezeq last month over party at interest deals between another Elovitch-owned company, Eurocom, and Bezeq’s purchase of DBS from Eurocom.
Elovitch was placed under house arrest Thursday, as was Bezeq CEO Stella Handler, and the Netanyahu appointed Director-General of the Communications Ministry, Shlomo Filber.
Also this week, several Netanyahu confidants, including his personal attorney and second cousin, David Shimron, were questioned under warning about alleged corruption surrounding a Defense Ministry purchase of German submarines.
Netanyahu’s political allies meanwhile wasted little time getting to work.
“We are going on the offensive,” wrote MK Miki Zohar on social media. “We are sick of all this unforgivable slapping around of the prime minister. We must stop this unforgivable stance by which the prime minister is always guilty until proven otherwise.”
Another Netanyahu ally, Yoav Kisch, also took to social media, saying “We will not allow the “Bibi is guilty until proven otherwise” line to take root in the media, whose’ goal is to collaborate with the left to bring down the prime minister without bothering to hold elections.”