In a highly-anticipated but much-derided TV address on Monday night, Benjamin Netanyahu called for the chance to confront state witnesses preparing to testify against him in a long-running corruption investigation.
The beleaguered prime minister, who hopes to run for re-election in April, is concerned that Israel’s attorney-general may indict him before the public head to the polls, so his address seemed designed to apply political pressure.
“Announcing indictments against me before the election and before I have had a chance to respond… is unfair,” he said, as analysts noted that it was Netanyahu himself who had brought the election forward by seven months.
“I asked twice to confront the witnesses against me and was refused,” he said, adding that he had “nothing to hide”.
He continued, saying other witnesses could have exonerated him but have not been interviewed, before alleging that “the left… are trying to bring me down with false allegations”.
However the TV address triggered an angry reaction and appeared to have backfired, with Channel 10, Israel’s most distinguished TV news station, dismissively cutting away from Netanyahu’s address before he had finished speaking.
Other political commentators were quick to condemn the stunt, saying Netanyahu had “cried wolf” and the 69-year old now ran the risk of “losing a megaphone when he really needs one”. Others said it was a sign of Netanyahu’s “escalating hysteria”.
Israeli police have formally submitted their recommendation to Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit that Netanyahu be charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two cases. Netanyahu denies all charges.