One shoe finally dropped in long-running corruption probes focusing on the Israeli prime minister and his wife. After an attempt at a settlement collapsed, prosecutors charged Sara Netanyahu with fraud and breach of trust in what has become known as the “Prepared Food Affair.” What does that mean for Benjamin Netanyahu and his suddenly-close relationship with the US?
Israeli prosecutors have charged Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister’s wife, with a series of crimes including fraud and breach of trust.
The Justice Ministry says in a statement on Thursday that Sara Netanyahu stands accused of misusing public funds by fraudulently ordering hundreds of meals to the prime minister’s official residence worth over $100,000 while falsely stating there were no cooks on staff.
A former deputy director of the prime minister’s residence is also charged in the case.
The Jerusalem Post notes that this is not entirely unprecedented. When the wife of Yitzak Rabin faced indictment in 1977, the then-Prime Minister resigned ahead of charges being filed. So far, Benjamin Netanyahu has not offered any indication that he might follow Rabin’s precedent, but he may end up with little choice. Last week, the Post also reported that prosecutors plan to indict Netanyahu himself, which could touch off a constitutional crisis in Israel if Netanyahu doesn’t resign at that time — depending on the specific charges brought by Avichai Mandelblit:
He will not say it out loud yet, but the chances are very high that sometime in 2019 he will announce his intention to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Case 4000 – the Bezeq-Walla! affair.
This will start the real battle over whether Netanyahu must resign, which would also cause the government to fall.
The all-important debate over whether a prime minister under indictment must resign or can be forced to quit by the High Court of Justice may then hinge on whether Netanyahu is indicted for bribery or mere breach of public trust and on how many cases he is indicted in.
The Rabin precedent, along with the obvious embarrassment factor, prompted a last-ditch attempt to cut a deal short of an indictment. Lawyers for his wife nearly avoided the whole issue by pledging to reimburse the state for some of the funds alleged to have been defrauded in the scheme:
Though the Post had learned about two weeks ago that an indictment would likely be coming down soon, there were continuous efforts to reach a plea bargain right down to the end, which left things up in the air and created an ongoing drama.
Other media had also reported in recent months that the actual indictment could be filed shortly after the Passover holiday in May, but then Netanyahu’s defense lawyers approached Mandelblit with a dramatic offer.
They offered to return some of the funds Netanyahu is accused of obtaining fraudulently and to take public responsibility, as long as she would not be slapped with any kind of criminal record.
For now, though, there seems to be no intent on Netanyahu’s part to leave, Rabin precedent or not. Netanyahu has been a fighter during his entire political life, and he finally has the kind of close partnership with a US president that he’s wanted and needed. Without a doubt, this would be the worst timing for a resignation in his long career. The case as described by the Post doesn’t appear to be a slam-dunk, as it relies on a complicated set of factors, including whether the cook worked continuously through the period in question. Netanyahu and his wife could try to brazen it out and hope prosecutors flop in court.
That strategy won’t outlast an indictment against the PM himself, though. He’ll need to get as much accomplished with Donald Trump, and vice versa, as possible before the second shoe drops.