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  • Netanyahu FILE - In this Sunday, Feb. 11, 2018 file photo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem. Israeli media reports Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018 say police recommending Netanyahu indictment on corruption charges, including bribery. (Ronen Zvulun, Pool via AP, File)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018 1:00 am

Charge Netanyahu with corruption, police urge

JOSEF FEDERMAN | Associated Press

JERUSALEM – Israeli police on Tuesday recommended that Benjamin Netanyahu be indicted on bribery and breach-of-trust charges in a pair of corruption cases, dealing an embarrassing blow to the embattled prime minister that is likely to fuel calls for him to step down.

Netanyahu angrily rejected the accusations, which included accepting nearly $300,000 in gifts from a pair of billionaires. He accused police of being on a witch hunt and vowed to remain in office and even seek re-election.

“I will continue to lead the state of Israel responsibly and loyally as long as you, the citizens of Israel, choose me to lead you,” an ashen-faced Netanyahu said in a televised address. “I am sure that the truth will come to light.”

The recommendations marked a dramatic ending to a more than yearlong investigation into allegations that Netanyahu accepted gifts from Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer, and suspicions that he offered to give preferential treatment to a newspaper publisher in exchange for favorable coverage.

The recommendations now go to Attorney General Avihai Mendelblit, who will decide whether to file charges. Netanyahu can remain in office during that process, which is expected to drag on for months.

But with a cloud hanging over his head, he could soon find himself facing calls to step aside. During similar circumstances a decade ago, Netanyahu, as opposition leader, urged then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to resign during a police investigation, saying a leader “sunk up to his neck in interrogations” could not govern properly.

Reactions quickly fell along partisan lines.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, a bitter rival of Netanyahu, called on him to suspend himself and for the coalition to appoint a replacement this morning.

“The depth of corruption is horrifying,” Barak said. “This does not look like nothing. This looks like bribery.”

But key members of Netanyahu's Likud Party rallied behind him. Cabinet Minister Miri Regev said she was “not excited” by the police recommendations and urged patience while the attorney general reviews the case.

She said the biggest surprise was that Yair Lapid, leader of the opposition Yesh Atid party, had been a witness. David Amsalem, another Netanyahu confidant, called Lapid a “snitch.”

Lapid later issued a statement calling on Netanyahu to resign.