ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Israel's attorney general is taking steps to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges. Netanyahu has a chance to respond to the allegations in court, which could take months, before an actual indictment is filed. But this has jolted Israel just six weeks before an election in which Netanyahu is seeking another term. NPR's Daniel Estrin joins us now from Jerusalem. Hi, Daniel.
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.
SHAPIRO: OK, I described these as corruption charges. What exactly is the attorney general accusing Netanyahu of having done?
ESTRIN: Well, there are three separate cases here. They all involve Netanyahu's relationships with businessmen. The attorney general says Netanyahu did favors for a Hollywood producer and received a, quote, "frequent and continuous supply of gifts." The attorney general also said Netanyahu is suspected of discussing a potential deal with a newspaper publisher to help him undercut his competitor in exchange for positive press.
And then there's another allegation. Probably the most serious one is that Netanyahu used his authorities to give lucrative favors to a powerful businessman. In exchange, the businessman's news website gave Netanyahu favorable media coverage. So now Netanyahu gets a hearing in court. He's going to try to convince the attorney general not to press these charges. But I spoke to legal experts who say criminal charges are pretty much a given here.
SHAPIRO: We've been getting regular news updates on this investigation. Is this move towards an indictment a surprise?
ESTRIN: Right. No, we've known about this for a while now. The police have investigated, and now the attorney general has deliberated for months. And he's given his answer today.
SHAPIRO: And what's Netanyahu saying in response today?
ESTRIN: Well, he spoke in Hebrew. And you can hear him say the word fake over and over. Have a listen to this.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: (Speaking Hebrew).
ESTRIN: "A blood libel..."
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
NETANYAHU: (Speaking Hebrew).
ESTRIN: "...Lies, scandalous, a witch hunt." He blamed the media and the left and justice officials - so a lot of the same language President Trump has used...
ESTRIN: ...To discredit investigations he's facing. And Netanyahu says this is a blatant interference in upcoming elections for the attorney general to rush to announce this before the elections. Basically his message is the same message we've been hearing Netanyahu say for months, which is, the left wing is trying to topple me.
SHAPIRO: Interesting to hear him take a page from Donald Trump's playbook there. Well, what is the opposition saying about this as the elections approach?
ESTRIN: Well, his main centrist challenger, who is an army chief - a former army chief who used to serve under Netanyahu - he gave a speech right after Netanyahu did, and he called on him to stop attacking the justice system, to put the country's interests over his own personal interests. He said, you know, Netanyahu can't handle the affairs of a state while also fighting in court. And he called on Netanyahu to step down.
SHAPIRO: What are the chances of Netanyahu doing that?
ESTRIN: Well, Netanyahu vows to stay in power for many years to come. That's what he said tonight. And by law, he does not need to resign. He could fight his case in court and still remain in office. And that whole process could take years. But I must say that today his future looks a lot more uncertain than it's ever looked over the last 10 years that Netanyahu has been in power. This is going to be a very close election. He's neck and neck with his centrist challenger. Most of his right-wing political allies say that they will support him for re-election, so there's a good chance he will stay in power. The big question here is, once he is likely indicted, whether Netanyahu's political partners will stay by his side and keep him in power.
SHAPIRO: It's NPR's Daniel Estrin speaking with us from Jerusalem. Thank you, Daniel.
ESTRIN: You're welcome.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.