JERUSALEM – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied profiting from a state contract to buy submarines from a German conglomerate, calling claims from a political rival “blood libel” in a rare broadcast interview on Channel 12.
In question were shares Netanyahu held in a company that later became affiliated with the conglomerate, a holding he sold at great return on investment. Netanyahu insisted he reported holding the shares, then selling them, and paid the appropriate tax on the gain.
“There is no connection between my investment and the submarines,” he said. “I sold my shares 1.5 years before the first submarines was sold.”
“The lie is that I made a profit from the submarines; that is blood libel.”
“Blood libel” is a loaded term, as it historically refers to false accusations that Jews in the Middle Ages ritually sacrificed Christian children on the holiday of Passover.
Benny Gantz, Netanyahu’s top rival in April 9 elections, sought to pin Netanyahu’s investments more directly to the sale of the submarines. He said Netanyahu received 16 million shekels ($4.4 million) and called for a national commission of inquiry.
Israel sealed the order for more than $2 billion in submarines and corvette warships from ThyssenKrupp AG beginning in 2015 under a deal that has raised concerns about possible bribery at the highest levels of Israel’s security apparatus. Former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who is running on the opposition Blue & White’s ticket, opposed the order at the time, saying the submarine purchases were unnecessary.
Police have already concluded there is enough evidence to charge at least six people in the case, including the prime minister’s personal legal adviser and his former chief of staff.
Netanyahu has given testimony in the probe, but hasn’t been named as a target. Attorney General Avihai Mandelblit has, however, recommended charges against the prime minister in three other corruption cases, pending a hearing.
In the latest poll published Friday by the Jerusalem Post, Gantz’s Blue and White party was forecast to win 30 seats out of 120 in April’s elections, while Netanyahu’s Likud would garner only 27. Even so, Netanyahu would still have an easier time forming a coalition government; the survey showed he could easily put together a 65-seat majority, to Gantz’s 55, because there are more parties likely to align with Netanyahu.
The prime minister appeared on television to defend himself as he was preparing to leave for the U.S., where he’s scheduled to meet with President Donald Trump.