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Supporters React To Netanyahu's Indictment


While President Trump faces possible impeachment here, his closest ally abroad now faces criminal charges. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust for his dealings with wealthy businessmen. Will this spell the end for Netanyahu as Israel's longest-serving prime minister? Well, depends on who you ask, as NPR's Daniel Estrin found out in Tel Aviv.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: If you listen to Israeli justice officials and legal experts, it seems that Benjamin Netanyahu is in hot water. Israel's attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, announced the indictment Thursday.


AVICHAI MANDELBLIT: (Through interpreter) A public official accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of gifts, supplied consistently for years, is a grave thing. I found apparent evidence of grave actions that would likely result in conviction.

ESTRIN: He says Netanyahu abused his authority to help a Hollywood producer and a media mogul make money. And in return, Netanyahu got cigars, champagne and the power to dictate coverage on a popular news website. He's being charged with bribery, which carries a potential jail sentence of seven to 10 years.

Amir Fuchs with the nonpartisan Israel Democracy Institute.

AMIR FUCHS: This is the first time in our history that we have an acting prime minister which is indicted, and the charges are really serious. It will be really hard for him to stay in office - really hard.

ESTRIN: Israeli law doesn't force an indicted prime minister to resign. He only has to step down if he's convicted and loses all his appeals. And to get there could take years.

But Netanyahu could hit a dead end a lot sooner. It's likely there will be fresh elections called within weeks, and Netanyahu could face legal hurdles to running for reelection as he faces an indictment, or his own party could call for leadership primaries and boot him out of first place.

Netanyahu has made it clear he will not go without a fight. He denounced his criminal charges on live TV.



ESTRIN: "Something bad is happening inside the police and prosecutor's office," he said. "It's an attempted coup. The public has lost faith in the justice system. Investigate the investigators."


ESTRIN: At a cheese shop in Tel Aviv, his supporters agree.

AVIV ATLAS: It's a deep state.

ESTRIN: Sixty-three-year-old customer Aviv Atlas says Netanyahu and President Trump are both facing the same thing - government officials plotting to unseat them. He compared the investigation of Netanyahu's alleged corruption to U.S. officials investigating whether Russia tried to get Trump elected. Trump, without evidence, calls that a hoax, and his justice officials are looking into it.

ATLAS: When they understood that it's a lie and a fake, they start to check it. And here, there is nobody to check it.

ESTRIN: The cheese sellers here see nothing criminal in what Bibi Netanyahu did.

Cashier Eden Abudi.

EDEN ABUDI: (Through interpreter) Who cares that he took a few gifts? The most important thing is that he protects the country.

SHARON ABUDI: (Speaking Hebrew).

ESTRIN: "Bibi and Trump - maybe they're both under-the-table kind of operators," says Sharon Abudi. "How'd Netanyahu get Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital?" This cheese seller is speaking from a place of admiration that Netanyahu gets things done no matter what it takes.

As another Netanyahu supporter told me, you've got to be a crook if you want to eat. But Rachel, a customer here who wouldn't give her last name, is happy about Netanyahu's indictment.

RACHEL: It's about time. It took long enough. The longer someone is in power, the longer they tend to want to stay in power.

ESTRIN: Netanyahu has been in office for a decade and vows to stay. His supporters in this cheese shop believe him and don't want him to step down. One told me, if Netanyahu tells us to go out and protest, a million people will be in the street.

Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Tel Aviv. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.
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