Trial of Benjamin Netanyahu
This article needs to be updated.May 2020)(
During Benjamin Netanyahu's fourth premiership, a number of corruption scandals have been investigated allegedly directly involving Netanyahu and his close political circle. The Israel Police began investigating Netanyahu starting in December 2016. Police recommended indictments against Netanyahu, and on 21 November 2019, Netanyahu was officially indicted for breach of trust, accepting bribes and fraud. As a result of the indictment, Netanyahu is legally required to relinquish his ministry portfolios other than prime minister. Netanyahu’s trial in the Jerusalem District Court began on 24 May 2020.
- Case 1000, opened officially in December 2016, involves valuable presents and gifts received by Netanyahu and his wife throughout the years from several wealthy acquaintances.
- Case 2000 deals with recorded conversations Netanyahu had with Arnon Mozes, chairman and editor of Yedioth Ahronoth, one of the largest newspapers in circulation in Israel. During these conversations, Netanyahu and Mozes discussed legislation that could harm Yedioth's major competitor, Israel Hayom.
- Case 3000 does not directly involve Netanyahu, but rather people with professional and personal ties to Netanyahu, in connection to a deal made between Israel and Germany for the purchase of three Dolphin-class submarines and four Sa'ar 6-class corvette warships.
- Case 4000 relates to telecommunications company Bezeq's relationship with its regulator, the communication ministry, at the time headed by Netanyahu.
- Case 1270 was an offshoot of Case 4000 involving an alleged appointment bribe offer to an Attorney General of Israel candidate in exchange for dropping a case against Netanyahu's wife.
On 21 November 2019, Netanyahu was officially charged of deception and breach of trust in cases 1000 and 2000, and of deception, breach of trust, and receiving bribes in case 4000.
In case 1000, Netanyahu has been charged with having had a conflict of interest when, in the capacity of Minister of Communications, he handled affairs related to the business interests of Arnon Milchan. Over the course of 20 years, Netanyahu received from Milchan, and from a friend of Milchan's, James Packer, expensive cigars and champagne, worth $195,000, and jewelry for Netanyahu's wife Sara costing $3,100. The charges cite three separate incidents in which Netanyahu assisted Milchan. In the first, Netanyahu contacted US officials regarding Milchin's visa to the US. In the second, in 2013, Netanyahu discussed with then Finance Minister the possibility of extending the period of an investment tax break that would help Milchan (the tax break was not extended). In the third, Netanyhu directed an official of the communications ministry to provide information to Milchin regarding a merger of Milchin's telecommunication companies.
Case 1270 related to a suspicion that Netanyahu's former media advisor offered District Court president Hila Gerstel an appointment to the vacated Attorney General of Israel in exchange for closing a case against Netanyahu's wife, an offer Gerstel refused. The case has been compared to the "Bar-On Hebron affair" in 1997, during Netanyahu's first term, involving the appointment of Roni Bar-On to attorney general. In January 2019, the case was closed for lack of evidence.
The two largest newspapers in circulation in Israel are Yedioth Ahronoth and Israel Hayom. Israel Hayom is owned (either directly or indirectly) by Sheldon Adelson, a personal friend and benefactor of Netanyahu. Israel Hayom is often criticized by the political left for portraying Netanyahu in an overly positive light. Meanwhile, Yedioth is often criticized by the right for being unfairly negative towards Netanyahu. Netanyahu and the editor of Yedioth, Arnon "Noni" Moses, held conversations discussing passage of legislation that would close Israel Hayom in exchange for Moses's hiring journalists who would steer the paper to being more favorable to Netanyahu. The legislation received support from left-wing parties but failed due to opposition from Netanyahu's coalition. Netanyahu has been charged with fraud and breach of trust in the case; Mozes has been charged with attempted bribery.
Netanyahu is not a suspect in Case 3000. Three Dolphin-class submarines and four Sa'ar 6-class corvette were purchased from the German company ThyssenKrupp by Israel. The suspicion in this case refers to swaying the deal in ThyssenKrup's favor for the personal gain of several of the people involved. Netanyahu's cousin and personal lawyer David Shimron, who represented the German company in Israel, is one of the main suspects.
Case 4000 involves the communication conglomerate Bezeq. The investigation investigated, among other issues, whether falsehoods were made with regards to paperwork leading to favorable business dealings for Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch in exchange for favorable reporting to Netanyahu by Walla!.
The Israeli Police recommended on 2 December 2018 that bribery charges be brought against Netanyahu and his wife. On November 21, 2019, Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit officially brought charges against Netanyahu of fraud, breach of trust, and receipt of bribes.
Several events have followed the investigations as they had widespread implications. As of September 2017, protesters have held Sunday rallies in Petah Tikva for 41 consecutive weeks to protest what they claim as interference with the investigations by the Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. Rallies have also been held in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square to protest government corruption, even in the midst of the Covid19 crisis, where demonstrators stood the required two meters apart and wore masks.
Supporters of Netanyahu (mainly Likud party members) organized counter protests. In early August 2017, leader of the coalition David Bitan began calling to arms the members of the Likud party, first in the form of the counter protests in Petah Tikva, later by threatening any party member who won't stand behind Netanyahu of "getting even" in the next primary season, and finally in a large rally to show support. The rally was held in Tel Aviv and had a wide showing of the majority of the Knesset members from the Likud party. During the rally Netanyahu gave a controversial speech, accusing the media of being a part of a left wing coalition and plotting against not only him, but the entire right wing. Opponents of Netanyahu argued that this was baseless, first because he is being investigated personally, as opposed to the entire Likud party, and because both Roni Alsheikh (Chief of the Israeli Police) and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit were appointed by Netanyahu himself. Since then, Netanyahu has consistently attempted to denigrate the justice system and the police in an effort to discount the charges against him, culminating in a speech made outside the courtroom on May 24,2020 before attending his first trial session.
On 19 December 2018, Israeli State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan recommended to Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit that Netanyahu be indicted. On 20 December 2018, Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said he would "work quickly" on the case but "not at the expense of quality decisions and professionalism".
On 28 February 2019, the Supreme Court of Israel rejected a motion filed by Netanyahu's Likud Party to stall the publication of the Attorney General's recommendations. The same day, Mandelblit announced that he had accepted police recommendations to indict Netanyahu on three of the charges and that the indictment will officially go into effect following a hearing.
Netanyahu submitted a request for immunity to the parliamentary speaker, Yuli Edelstein, on 1 January 2020. Many MKs, including Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beiteinu, Benny Gantz of Blue and White, and Stav Shaffir of the Green Party were critical of the move. Lieberman called for the Knesset to bring back committees that had been dissolved (and also indicated that his party would vote against a bid for immunity); without a Knesset committee, there would be no action on Netanyahu's immunity until after the March election. According to The Times of Israel columnist Raoul Wootliff, the election had in effect become a race to gain enough seats so that Netanyahu can successfully request immunity from over half of the MKs.
Knesset legal advisor Eyal Yinon ruled on 12 January 2020 that there was no impediment to forming a Knesset committee that could prevent Netanyahu from receiving immunity. If his immunity bid was not accepted, his trial could begin. There was a vote the next day establishing a House Committee that would debate immunity for Netanyahu; it was approved 16 votes in favour to five against. The committee included 30 members, with a majority from parties opposed to Netanyahu.
Prelude to the trialEdit
On 18 February 2020, the Justice Ministry announced that Netanyahu's trial would start in the Jerusalem District Court on 17 March 2020.
On 9 March 2020, Netanyahu filed a motion to delay the trial for 45 days. On 10 March, the court rejected this bid and affirmed the original trial date. However, on 15 March 2020, the beginning of the trial was pushed back until 24 May as a result of coronavirus-related restrictions. The Jerusalem District Court ordered Netanyahu to appear in person at the opening of his trial.
The trial began on 24 May 2020 in courtroom 317 of the Jerusalem District Court, in front of judges Rivka Friedman-Feldman, Moshe Bar-Am, and Oded Shaham, with Friedman-Feldman as the presiding judge. Netanyahu was present along with three other defendants in his corruption cases, Shaul Elovitch, Iris Elovitch, and Arnon Mozes. The opening session of the trial, which is referred to in Israeli jurisprudence as the "reading", saw the judges read out the charges to Netanyahu and the others, and the defendants confirming that they understood them, after which the defense attorneys, prosecutors, and judges discussed the timing of the start of the evidentiary stage of the trial. During his the first session, Netanyahu was granted the right to avoid a second in-person court appearance for the next session, which is scheduled to be held on 19 July 2020. It was reported that Netanyahu's next in-person court appearance would not happen until the evidentiary stage of the trial began, which would not start for several months, possibly not until 2021.
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