Ehud Barak Says Israel's Opposition Must Unite to Beat Netanyahu

(Bloomberg) -- Israel’s attorney general must announce before the next election whether he intends to press charges against Benjamin Netanyahu, one of the prime minister’s predecessors said Thursday, urging opposition politicians to join forces to unseat the incumbent.

The public deserves to know before the April 9 vote whether Netanyahu is likely to be charged with bribery, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak said in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where he was promoting InterCure Ltd., a medical marijuana company he chairs.

“You cannot send the public to the ballots without telling them the details of what they’re going to decide,” said Barak, who served as defense minister under Netanyahu from 2009 to 2013 and in recent months has emerged as one of his sharpest critics. “I hope after the attorney general announces his decision people will go to the ballots and, with all due respect, send Netanyahu back home.”

Police have recommended that Netanyahu be charged with bribery and other offenses in three separate cases of alleged influence-peddling. Attorney General Avihai Mandelblit is expected to announce in coming weeks whether he will summon Netanyahu to a legal hearing to respond to the allegations, the final step before deciding whether to press charges.

‘Fragile’ Leader

Netanyahu denies wrongdoing, saying he’s the victim of a witch hunt by left-wing political opponents who can’t defeat him at the ballot box. He’s mounting a fierce public campaign urging Mandelblit to wait until after the election to announce his intentions, arguing that it will prejudice voters if the prime minister is summoned to a months-long hearing that can’t be completed before the vote. Netanyahu is not required to step down if indicted, and has vowed to remain in office even if charged.

Netanyahu “is fragile, he’s weaker and he could be removed. But if the opposition ends up being split between a half-dozen small parties, it won’t work -- Bibi will lead the next government as well,” Barak said, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname.

“If a group of recognized people with a record mainly on security but also on diplomacy and other issues -- if such a group comes together, almost every one who could potentially lead it can bring about a change of direction and removal of Netanyahu.”

Barak said he doesn’t want to lead that bloc personally. Since retiring from politics, he has joined business ventures ranging from cyber security to emergency-rescue technology, including a recent foray into medical marijuana. InterCure has risen nearly 50 percent since Israel’s Finance Ministry announced this week that the government would approve medical-marijuana export on Sunday.

Having a weed-related conference on the sidelines of Davos “is a kind of recognition that cannabis is entering the arena full-volume. I expect it to be at the main plenum next year or the year after,” Barak said. “We’re looking at a huge future.”

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