On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu entered court for the first day of his high-profile corruption trial. Netanyahu faces felony charges of fraud, breach of trust, and bribery. He is accused of accepting lavish gifts such as champagne and expensive cigars, as well as positive media coverage from media moguls, in exchange for special favours. Netanyahu denies all charges.
Before entering court, Netanyahu railed against the national justice system in the corridors of the courthouse, accusing police and prosecutors of conspiring to “depose” him. “When there is a strong right-wing leader like me, everything is permitted to bring him down,” he said. “This is an attempt to overthrow us.” This echoed his previous claims that he is a victim of conspiracy, led by the media and the justice system, to oust him from power.
Sunday marked a historic day for Israel, as Netanyahu became the country’s first sitting prime minister ever to go on trial. Just outside the courthouse, hundreds of supporters gathered on Salah a-Din Street, in East Jerusalem, which, according to the New York Times, no other country has formally recognised as part of Israel. Supporters included prominent members of his own Likud party. Meanwhile, hundreds of protestors gathered at his residence, calling him the “crime minister”. The trial is likely to further deepen divisions in an already thoroughly divided nation.
The trial is also taking place as the COVID-19 pandemic looms in the background. Netanyahu followed public health restrictions by donning a blue surgical mask before entering the Jerusalem courtroom. Inside the courtroom, both the lawyers and judges also wore masks and the three-judge panel sat behind a glass divider. As part of his tirade before the proceedings, Netanyahu made explicit reference to the health crisis, adding that, “While the media continues to deal with nonsense, with these false, trumped up cases, I will continue to lead the state of Israel and deal with issues that really matter to you,” referring to his efforts “to save the lives of thousands of Israelis ahead of the possibility of a second wave of coronavirus.”
Netanyahu will not be required to attend any future hearings during the trial. Experts estimate that the trial could go on for several years. Netanyahu could face up to 10 years in prison if found guilty. The trial follows over a year of political turmoil in Israel as three inconclusive elections ended in an equal unity government between Netanyahu and his political rival Benny Gantz. Gantz, who previously vowed to never sit with an indicted Prime Minister, will take over as Prime Minister from Netanyahu after 18 months, when Netanyahu will replace him as Alternate Prime Minister.
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