נתניהו באולם בית המשפט
Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening of his criminal trial
Photo: GPO
Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening of his criminal trial in Jerusalem on Sunday

Netanyahu lashes out at justice system as criminal trial gets underway

Israel's first sitting PM to stand trial claims the charges against him are attempt to subvert the will of the people and unseat the leader of the right-wing in cooperation with the leftist media, police and state prosecution

Associated Press, Ynet |
Published: 05.24.20 , 16:42
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday launched a tirade against the nation's justice system as his long-awaited corruption trial got underway, accusing police and prosecutors of conspiring to "depose" him.
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  • "What is on trial today is the attempt to subvert the will of the people and topple me and the right-wing," he said.
    נתניהו באולם בית המשפטנתניהו באולם בית המשפט
    Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening of his criminal trial in Jerusalem on Sunday
    (Photo: GPO)
    Netanyahu's comments opened what is sure to be a tumultuous period for Israel as he becomes the country's first sitting prime minister ever to go on trial.
    Hundreds of protesters calling him the "Crime Minister" demonstrated outside his official residence, while hundreds of supporters, including leading members of his Likud party, rallied in support of him at the courthouse.
    Netanyahu opponents protest outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, May 24, 2020 Netanyahu opponents protest outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, May 24, 2020
    Netanyahu opponents protest outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, May 24, 2020
    (Photo: EPA)
    Netanyahu faces charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in a series of corruption cases stemming from ties to wealthy friends. 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, which come after years of scandals swirling around the family.
    Netanyahu entered the Jerusalem courtroom wearing a blue surgical mask, in line with public health restriction due to the coronavirus pandemic. He stood and talked to his lawyers, refusing to sit until TV cameras left the room.
    נתניהו באולם בית המשפטנתניהו באולם בית המשפט
    Benjamin Netanyahu with his defense lawyers at the opening of his criminal trial in Jerusalem District
    (Photo: Amit Shabi)
    As the proceedings began, the lawyers and judges also wore masks, with the three-judge panel sitting behind a glass divider.
    In a hint of what could lie ahead, his lawyers said they would need two to three months to respond to the arraignment, and said they needed additional funds to add to their defense's legal team. Netanyahu sat silently.
    When he arrived at the courthouse, Netanyahu revived his claims that he is the victim of a deep state-type conspiracy by media, police, prosecutors, and judges out to oust him.
    "The objective is to depose a strong, right-wing prime minister, and thus remove the nationalist camp from the leadership of the country for many years," he said.
    בנימין נתניהו עם חברי הליכוד לפני הדיון הראשון במשפטובנימין נתניהו עם חברי הליכוד לפני הדיון הראשון במשפטו
    Flanked by Likud allies, Benjamin Netanyahu lashes out at start of criminal trial in Jerusalem
    (Photo: GPO)
    He said police and prosecutors had conspired to "tailor" a case against him and said the evidence was "contaminated" and exaggerated.
    He called for the court proceedings to be broadcast live on TV to ensure "full transparency."
    "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 said, including to resuscitate the economy and "continue to save the lives of thousands of Israelis ahead of the possibility of a second wave of coronavirus."
    Critics have said that Netanyahu's arguments have undermined Israel's court system and risk deeper damage to the country's democratic institutions.
    הדגלים השחוריםהדגלים השחורים
    Anti-Netanyahu protesters demonstrate as the PM's criminal trial begins
    (Photo: Reuters)
    Netanyahu's fitness for office was the key issue in three inconclusive elections over the past year. After vowing never to sit with an indicted prime minister, Netanyahu's challenger, Benny Gantz, agreed in March to form a power-sharing coalition with his rival.
    Avi Nissenkorn, the country's new justice minister and member of Gantz's Blue & White Party, defended the legal system before Netanyahu arrived in court and after his statements.
    Israel "is blessed with a quality justice system without bias," Nissenkorn wrote on Twitter. "I have no doubt that the judicial process will be managed in a matter-of-fact and fair fashion."
    “Like every citizen, the prime minister also has the presumption of innocence and I am certain the legal system will carry out a just trial,” Gantz posted on Twitter. “I would like to emphasize that my colleagues and I have full faith in the legal system and law enforcement.
    Netanyahu was forced to attend Sunday's hearing at the Jerusalem district court, after his request to have his lawyers represent him instead was rejected.
    The dramatic scene came just days after the long-serving leader swore in his new government, breaking more than a year of political stalemate following three inconclusive elections.
    Netanyahu held his first Cabinet meeting with the new government just hours before heading to court. Neither he nor any of his ministers addressed the looming trial but the country's outgoing religious affairs minister wished Netanyahu that "God will bring the truth out" at his trial.
     ישיבת ממשלה ישיבת ממשלה
    First full cabinet meeting held hours before the opening of Benjamin Netanyahu's criminal trial
    (Photo: Reuters)
    Netanyahu and his allies have spent months lashing out the country's law enforcement system, and the charges against him have deeply divided the nation.
    Ahead of the trial, two sets of protests and counter-protests gathered outside the courthouse and the prime minister's official residence in Jerusalem. Dozens of Netanyahu supporters outside the court in east Jerusalem wore masks with the prime minister's face and held posters lambasting the attorney general who indicted him.
    "We won't allow an image of Netanyahu being humiliated," said Ran Carmi Buzaglo, one of the protesters.
    "The only reason that they forced him to come here, even though the law allows him to be absent, is to show an image of him in the defendant's chair."
    תומכי נתניהו תומכי נתניהו
    Pro-Netanyahu demonstrators outside the Jerusalem District Court as his criminal trial begins
    (Photo: AFP)
    Across town, several hundred anti-Netanyahu demonstrators gathered outside his residence wearing face masks and t-shirts with the words "Crime Minister" and bearing posters calling for his resignation. They faced off across police barricades with the prime minister's backers.
    Several of Netanyahu's Likud Cabinet ministers, including the newly appointed internal security minister who oversees the police, came to the court to back him.
    Opposition leader Yair Lapid accused them of fomenting violence and trying to intimidate the judges. "Netanyahu is trying to drag us into a civil war to save himself from the trial," he told Ynet earlier Sunday.
    יאיר לפידיאיר לפיד
    Opposition leader Yair Lapid in the Ynet studio on Sunday
    (Photo: Dolev Juli)
    Netanyahu's court appearance Sunday caps a three-year investigation. It also comes after more than a year of political turmoil, with three inconclusive elections - each seen as a referendum on Netanyahu - finally ending last month with the power-sharing deal with Gantz.
    As part of their deal, Netanyahu will remain prime minister for the next 18 months, and alternative prime minister for the 18 months after, and will not be legally required to step down during what is expected to be a lengthy trial.
    Netanyahu's proceedings were supposed to begin in March but were delayed by his then-justice minister who issued restrictions on the courts amid the coronavirus crisis.

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