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Unprecedented Netanyahu indictment roils Israeli election

Israel’s attorney general has recommended indictment for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over allegations of corruption. But Netanyahu is denying the accusations and characterizing the move as a political tactic timed to diminish his prospects in an upcoming election, which could grant him a fourth term. John Yang reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    He has blasted the investigation into his administration as a witch-hunt and claimed that the probe was tainted, even as some of his top aides turned against him to work with prosecutors.

    As John Yang reports, the long-awaited decision to indict Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu comes just weeks before an election that could give him another term.

  • John Yang:

    Just weeks before Israeli elections, amid a white-hot campaign, Israel's attorney general recommended that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

    At an evening news conference, Netanyahu blasted the decision.

  • Benjamin Netanyahu:

    The left is doing this because they know they can't beat us at the ballot box. For three years, they have been carrying out a political pursuit against us, an unprecedented hunting expedition with one goal, to topple the right-wing government led by me.

  • John Yang:

    Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit led the two-year investigation. He once served as a top Netanyahu aide.

    It's the first time in Israeli history that a sitting prime minister has been indicted. Prosecutors allege Netanyahu eased regulations and approved deals for two media companies in exchange for more favorable press coverage. In addition, they say Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, accepted $280,000 worth of gifts in exchange for political favors.

    Corruption allegations have dogged Netanyahu for much of his time as prime minister. But today's charges are a severe blow to his outsized political ambitions and standing, says former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk.

  • Martin Indyk:

    There's going to be this steady drip of revelations about what he said to various people that will sound very corrupt. And I think that's going to be a real challenge for him as he heads into this election on April 9.

  • John Yang:

    Formal charges will be filed at a hearing after Israel's April 9 elections. Still, the indictment itself threatens his reelection in an already overheated political atmosphere.

    He faces a major challenge from former Army Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, who's formed a centrist political party to take on Netanyahu's right-wing Likud Party.

  • Martin Indyk:

    There's this sense that a former general who has strong security credentials linked provides for the first time in over a decade a serious challenge to Netanyahu, before the indictment came out.

  • John Yang:

    A Times of Israel poll shows Netanyahu and Gantz in a virtual tie. But when asked if an indictment would change their minds, more said they would support Gantz .

    Today, Gantz pounced on Netanyahu's troubles:

  • Benny Gantz:

    I call on you, Benjamin Netanyahu, from here tonight to come to your senses, show responsibility, and resign from your post.

  • John Yang:

    Netanyahu said today he will not resign. And he got a major boost from a key ally. President Trump spoke in Hanoi

  • Donald Trump:

    He's done a great job as prime minister. He's tough, he's smart, he's strong.

  • John Yang:

    There is also the longstanding and long-suffering issue of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the coming plan from the Trump administration. Indyk says the prospects for that plan could actually be improved if Netanyahu loses.

  • Martin Indyk:

    If there is a more centrist government, there is greater prospect that the Trump deal of the century could be more warmly embraced by the next government.

  • John Yang:

    The plan is now reportedly coming after the Israeli election, one that Netanyahu said today he intends to win.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm John Yang.

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