Israeli PM faces court and partisan challenges after being accused of corruption

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — The Movement for Good Governance in Israel asked the Supreme Court on Sunday to order Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to quit after being accused of corruption, adding to pressure from within his ruling party.

Netanyahu, who served four terms in office, denied accusations of bribery, fraud and dishonesty and said he would remain in office and defend himself.

His indictment on Thursday came amid unprecedented political chaos in Israel after elections in April and September, in which neither Netanyahu nor his centrist rival, Benny Gantz, won a majority to govern.

In its petition to the Supreme Court, the Movement for Good Governance in Israel said criminal charges against a prime minister still in office for the first time in Israel were “a breach of a red line and a strong blow to public confidence in the institutions of government”.

The movement said the Supreme Court must force Netanyahu to resign or temporarily step down as prime minister. It was not immediately clear when the court would rule on the petition.

Gantz’s deadline to form a government expired on Wednesday after Netanyahu failed. The next day, the Israeli president announced a three-week ultimatum during which Knesset members could choose one of them to try to form a coalition.

If that fails too, new elections will be held, the third in 12 months.

Netanyahu’s hopes of securing the nomination face a challenge from a rival from his own Likud party, Gideon Sa’ar.

Sa’ar said on Saturday Netanyahu would not be able to win a third election and called on Likud to vote on a new leader.

“There is only one way to save the country, get it out of the crisis and ensure that Likud will continue to govern – that is to go to early primary elections today within the 21-day deadline,” Sa’ar told Israel’s Channel 12 television. He had previously said he would consider running for the Likud leadership.

Sa’ar appreciated Netanyahu’s record term and indicated he was innocent until proven guilty but criticized his attempts to portray his prosecution on criminal charges as a “coup attempt” involving police, prosecutors and the media.

“It is not only wrong to say that, it is irresponsible,” he said.

A Likud spokesman rejected the challenge.

“It is sad that while Benjamin Netanyahu maintains Israel’s security on all fronts and works to ensure that Likud continues to govern, Gideon Sa’ar, as usual, shows a lack of loyalty and utmost conspiracy,” he said.

In his opening speech on Sunday, Netanyahu did not mention the political crisis or his legal problems and talked about security issues.

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