Attorneys for Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday lashed out at the State Prosecutor's Office after it expressed its opposition to the prime minister being absent at the opening session of his criminal trial next week.
Netanyahu has been indicted on charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust and is due to go on trial on May 24.
Netanyahu's lawyers Amit Haddad and Micha Fetman claimed the state is participating in a media campaign launched by his opponents who would like to see him in the position of the accused.
The trial was due to begin in March but was postponed after interim Justice Minister Amir Ohana declared emergency measures as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Netanyahu submitted a request to Jerusalem District Court to be excused from the reading of criminal charges against him on Sunday, claiming the proceedings would be no more than a technicality.
In response to Netanyahu's request, prosecutor Judith Tirosh of the anti-fraud Israel Securities Authorities wrote that the prime minister's presence is vital for the appearance of justice being upheld and for the public's faith in the proceedings, as well as in being in line with the principle of equality for criminal defendants.
All criminal defendants must appear in court during their trial with some exceptions, but at the opening session - which includes the reading of charges against them - defendants are required to be present and must state to the court that they fully understand the charges they face.
Tirosh rejected the prime minister's claim that the hearing is merely a technicality and that the presence of Netanyahu's legal team should suffice.
"This is the opening of the defendant's trial and carries a legal significance that is written into law requiring the accused to be present at the reading of charges, regardless of the presence of counsel."
The prosecutor added that this does not have to apply to all other court sessions pertaining to this case and any request for exemption later in the process would be considered.
The defense teams for Netanyahu and his co-defendant in Case 2000, Ynet publisher Arnon Mozes submitted a joint request to Jerusalem District Court to allow both men to be absent from the reading of charges on Sunday.
Because of social distancing practices, the judge's panel had decided to limit the number of people allowed into the courtroom and had informed the defendants that each of them would be allowed only one defense attorney to be present.