Israel’s Netanyahu becomes first sitting PM to stand trial
After entering the record books last year as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu’s long-awaited criminal trial began in a Jerusalem courtroom on Sunday, marking the first time Israel will see an incumbent prime minster stand trial.
Netanyahu has been charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases. He is accused of accepting lavish gifts and offering to grant favors to powerful media moguls in exchange for favorable coverage of him and his family. He denies the charges and has lashed out at the media, police, prosecution and courts of forging a conspiracy to oust him.
Even before its opening, the trial has become a clashing point between Netanyahu and his supporters and Israel’s legal system.
Netanyahu and his allies frequently lash out at the legal system over the trial, with much of the fire focusing on Attorney General Avihai Mandelblit.
The 56-year-old official was a close ally of Netanyahu when the prime minister nominated him as the attorney general in 2016, but after he took the unprecedented move and pressed charges against a sitting leader, he became a frequent target of attacks by Netanyahu’s supporters.
On Thursday, Minister for Cyber and National Digital Matters, David Amsalem, a close ally of Netanyahu, slammed Mandelblit, calling him an “alleged criminal.”
In an interview for Israel’s Army Radio, Amsalem called on to launch an investigation against Mandelblit, charging the attorney general was involved in illegalities around the appointment of the military’s chief 10 years ago.
Yariv Levin, Likud’s speaker of the parliament and Netanyahu close associate, said in a statement on Sunday that the opening of the trial “will be remembered as one of the low points of the Israeli legal system.”
According to the indictment, in a corruption affair dubbed “Case 4000,” Netanyahu allegedly took bribes from Shaul Elovitch, a former control-holder of Bezeq, Israel’s largest telecom company, by giving Bezeq financial and regulatory benefits.
During the alleged offenses, Netanyahu was the communication minister in addition to his capacity as prime minister.
In exchange, Elovitch, allegedly required Walla, a news site controlled by Elovitch, to provide favorable coverage of the Netanyahu and his wife Sara.
In “Case 1000,” Netanyahu and his family allegedly received expensive cigars, champagne, and jewellery worth about 1 million new shekels (268,200 U.S. dollars) from the Israeli businessman and Hollywood tycoon, Arnon Milchan, between 2007 and 2016.
In “Case 2000,” Netanyahu and Arnon Mozes, the publisher of Yedioth Ahronoth, one of Israel’s largest newspapers, allegedly held talks over an exchange deal, in which Netanyahu would receive favorable coverage in Yedioth Ahronoth.
Netanyahu, the first prime minister in Israel’s history to stand trial while in office, denies the allegations, charging they are part of “a witch hunt.”
His proceedings were supposed to begin in March, but were delayed by his justice minister who issued restrictions on the courts amid the coronavirus crisis.