In an unprecedented instance, a ruling prime minister is on trial for corruption. Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu took the stand on Sunday to defend himself. This happened mere days after his reelection.
The 70-year-old has denied the accusations of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. Upon arriving at the Jerusalem courthouse, he said that the cases are aimed at “toppling him in any way possible”. He insists that the charges against him are “fabricated and ludicrous”.
Following three inconclusive elections within a one year period, his former political rival Benny Gantz has agreed to share the power.
Netanyahu dismissed his opponents’ calls to resign amid the ongoing trial.
What Happened At The Courthouse
When he arrived at the Jerusalem District Court he said to the reporters, “I’m here with a straight back and my head held high.”
“The objective is to topple a strong prime minister from the rightist camp and thus to remove the right-wing from leadership for many years,” he said.
“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,” he stated, including to revive the economy, and “continue to save the lives of thousands of Israelis ahead of the possibility of a second wave of coronavirus”.
He stood in a face mask and refused to sit on the defendant’s bench until media members left the courtroom.
“I read and I understand the indictment,” he told the judges at the beginning of the trial. These were one of the few words he said during the hour-long hearing.
The court excused him from appearing personally at the next hearing scheduled for July 19. Isreal’s top analysts estimate that trial will take several months, if not several years.
What Charges Is Netanyahu Facing?
There are three separate cases against Israel’s prime minister and they’re known as 1000, 2000, and 3000.
- Case 1000: Fraud and breach of trust. In this case, Netanyahu is accused of accepting various gifts, namely expensive cigars and champagne, from wealthy and powerful businessmen in exchange for favors.
- Case 2000: Fraud and breach of trust. Here, he’s accused of offering to help improve the circulation of Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot in exchange for positive representation.
- Case 3000: Bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. This case is regarding his time as both and minister of communications at the time of the alleged offense. Here he’s accused of promoting regulatory decisions favorable to the controlling shareholder in the Bezeq telecom giant, Shaul Elovitch, in exchange for positive press coverage by Elovitch’s Walla news site.
Netanyahu firmly rejected all the charges, marking them a “witch-hunt” by political challengers, and has sworn to clear his name.
He said police and prosecutors worked together to “tailor” a case against him and that the evidence was “contaminated” and exaggerated. He called for the trial to be aired live on television to guarantee “full transparency”.
Can The Prime Minister Be Forced To Resign As The Result Of This Trial?
Netanyahu is under no legal obligation to resign. There is a case, however, where a former prime minister, Ehud Olmert, stepped down as party leader when he was under investigation for corruption in 2008, while technically remaining in the position of the prime minister.
Netanyahu made no indications of doing something similar.
In the Supreme Court ruling, it was declared that the prime minister may continue to serve his term, even if indicted. However, he will be forced to resign if he’s convicted and the conviction is upheld after the appeal process.
Political Situation In Israel Seems To Have Calmed Down As Netanyahu And Gantz Unite
Previously mentioned Benny Gantz currently occupies a newly created role of an “alternate prime minister”. This role was created in March 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic and allows both Gantz and Netanyahu to swap roles within 18 months.
Gantz supported Netanyahu in his trial. He tweeted on Sunday, “I would like to reemphasize that my colleagues and I fully trust our legal system and law enforcement agencies. Now, perhaps more than ever, we must move toward unity and conciliation, as a country and as a society, for the State of Israel and all of its citizens,”
This is all a very interesting turnaround as Gantz campaigned in three previous elections on the platform of never serving in the same government as Netanyahu. Citing the fear of expensive fourth election, he made peace with his former enemy and decided to join forces.
Belief in Israel as to whether he should continue on as prime minister is divided: detractors say that the spectacle of a trial causes Mr. Netanyahu’s job to be untenable, but his followers – including his party – say that he has been democratically elected and should not be forcefully made to resign.
Opposition representative Yair Lapid called it “an embarrassment” and “horrible for the spirit of the nation” despite no expectations of trial affecting government policies. Netanyahu is still expected to push ahead with plans to annex Jewish settlements and the Jordan Valley – territory in the occupied West Bank – in the upcoming months.