On February 28th the BBC News website published two reports pertaining to the anticipated announcement from Israel’s attorney general that the prime minister would be charged, pending a hearing, in relation to three separate cases.
The first of the two reports – titled “Benjamin Netanyahu: Israel PM faces corruption charges” related to the attorney general’s announcement.
In addition to details of the allegations in the three cases (which had previously been reported in an article published on December 2nd), the article included the first brief reference to the factual background concerning relevant Israeli legislation and procedures that audiences have seen in all the BBC’s generous coverage of this story.
“A final hearing, probably after the election, will determine whether the charges go forward. The prime minister will have an opportunity to make his case then. […]
Mr Netanyahu is presumed innocent unless proven otherwise and there is currently no legal barrier to stop him staying in office if he’s re-elected – even if the attorney general makes a final decision to charge him after a hearing due in the coming months.”
As pointed out at the Times of Israel, “the coming months” is more likely to be early next year.
“Legal officials have taken pains to point out that the hearing is not a simple technical matter but could have significant bearing on the case. Only after a hearing can formal charges be filed.
The right to a hearing is anchored in Israel’s Criminal Procedure Law, which states that “the suspect will be entitled to apply in writing to the prosecution authority… and to make a reasoned petition to abstain from the filing of an indictment.”
Under the law, this request can be made within 30 days of the suspect receiving notification of the intention to indict him. […]
Mandelblit, in his written statement Thursday, promised to examine the defense team’s arguments “willingly and with an open heart.” His final decision on whether to indict Netanyahu is unlikely to come before early 2020.
The reasons for the delay are manifold. For one, the attorney general has decided not to release all case files until after the Knesset election, lest they be used for political purposes and campaign propaganda.
In practice, that means that Netanyahu’s lawyers will only be able to view all the charges against their client after April 9. They then need to be given enough time to review the entire material and properly prepare their counter arguments. Given the complicated nature of Cases 1000, 2000 and 4000, it appears reasonable to grant them several months to do that.”
The second article published on February 28th is titled “Benjamin Netanyahu: What are the corruption allegations?” and it purports to provide audiences with details of the three cases.
Readers may recall that just days earlier the BBC News website had published a similar filmed backgrounder by Tom Bateman of the BBC’s Jerusalem bureau and that report still appeared on the website’s Middle East page on February 28th.
The following day, March 1st, an article by the BBC Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell appeared in the ‘features’ section of the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page under the headline “Netanyahu charges: Is Israel PM in more trouble now than ever before?”.
A significant proportion of that article comprised material recycled from an audio report by Knell that had been aired on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme on February 6th.
Knell: “Ha’aretz journalist and Netanyahu biographer Anshel Pfeffer sees the PM on the attack.”
Pfeffer: “He’s very much under pressure, he’s very much acting impulsively. The more time passes, the more these indictments will create more problems for him and these challenges on the political scene with a new party like the Gantz party and with rivals within Likud perhaps starting to speak out against him, we’ll see less the statesman and more the local politician fighting a very dirty battle of survival.”
“He’s very much under pressure, he’s very much acting impulsively,” says Anshel Pfeffer, a Haaretz journalist who wrote a recent biography of the prime minister.
“The more these indictments create problems for him and the more the challenges on the political scene with a new party, like the Gantz party – and with rivals within Likud perhaps starting to speak out against him – we’ll see less the statesman and more the local politician fighting a very dirty battle of survival.”
Knell: “Grass roots Likud voters strongly support their leader.”
Unidentified Man: “Currently there is no-one that is nearly as strong or as intelligent or as experienced as Netanyahu is.”
Unidentified Woman: “Netanyahu I think is the best prime minister we had here, not just for security – also for the economic situation.”
“Likud members firmly back their leader.
“Currently, there’s no-one that’s nearly as strong or as intelligent or as experienced as Netanyahu is,” Zohar Tal, a candidate, told me at a Likud primary event last month.
“Netanyahu, I think he’s the best prime minister we had here,” added Iris, a grassroots supporter. “Not just for security but also for the economic situation.””
Knell: “Guy Lurie of the Israel Democracy Institute says it’s not clear what happens next.”
Lurie: “No prime minister in Israeli history has been indicted while in office. It’s really difficult to see how he could conduct himself in court facing serious potential multiple corruption charges and continue to conduct government. We are in uncharted waters. We don’t know how that will take shape.”
“This is the first time that a serving prime minister has been put on official notice of planned prosecution. While there are currently no legal barriers to him staying on, it creates an uncertain situation.
“We’re in uncharted waters. We don’t know how this will take shape,” says Guy Lurie, a legal expert at the Israel Democracy Institute.
Mr Netanyahu is presumed innocent unless proven otherwise. However, if he is re-elected, indicted and then refuses to resign, it is thought likely that the Supreme Court would rule on his position.
“It’s really difficult to see how he could conduct himself in court facing serious – potentially multiple – corruption charges and continue to conduct government,” Mr Lurie notes.”
Knell: “Here on a main road by the Likud polling station you can see how Mr Netanyahu is building his campaign around that belief. There’s a huge billboard showing him with President Trump, beaming and shaking hands. ‘Netanyahu – a different league’ reads the slogan. The prime minister is stressing how his close relations with this White House has helped deliver a tough approach on Iran and the Palestinians as well as US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”
“Recently, huge billboards were put up in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem showing the prime minister with President Trump, beaming and shaking hands. “Netanyahu: a different league” read the slogan.
The prime minister aims to show how his close relations with this White House have helped deliver a tough approach on Iran and the Palestinians as well as US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”
In summary, throughout all of the ten days between February 20th and March 1st, the BBC News website’s Middle East page carried at least one of four different but remarkably similar reports on this story.
BBC News Israel election coverage limps on
Keeping Knell’s crystal ball gazing alive on BBC Radio 4