The announcement set Israel abuzz with suspense late Monday afternoon: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a “dramatic statement” to deliver at 8 p.m., at the start of the most heavily watched news hour.
Would it be about Iran? Hezbollah? Hamas? The Trump peace plan?
The subject, it turned out, was an existential threat not to Israel, but to Mr. Netanyahu’s career.
For seven minutes on live television — enormously valuable exposure with elections only three months away — Mr. Netanyahu railed against a corruption investigation into his dealings with several Israeli media tycoons that is widely expected to culminate soon in an indictment on bribery and other criminal charges.
The investigation was “biased,” Mr. Netanyahu complained. He demanded an opportunity to confront the state’s witnesses, on television, before any potential trial, so all Israelis “will know the whole truth.”
He scoffed at the idea that one of the main accusations against him — buying positive news coverage, in exchange for government benefits worth hundreds of millions of dollars — could amount to bribery: “A joke,” he said. “An absurdity!”
And then he suggested one of his chief rivals in the April elections, the centrist candidate Yair Lapid, was guilty of the same thing; called himself and his family victims of a “terrible witch hunt” orchestrated by the political left; and claimed that those leftist adversaries wanted him to sacrifice Israel’s security, but that he would “never do such a thing.”
At least one television channel cut away midspeech.
Others carried the full performance, which was indeed dramatic if not quite in the way Mr. Netanyahu intended. The announcement, a chorus of political rivals and analysts quickly concluded, was the drama of a hunted animal sensing that the hunters were closing off his escape routes. [Continue reading…]