Far-right Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, will become today (Sunday, May 24), the first sitting premier in Israel’s history to go on trial for public corruption.
A coalition of groups led by the Movement for the Quality of Government are planning protests and what they call “guerrilla activities” near the Jerusalem District Court under the banner “Israel is Ashamed,” starting at 15:00. The “Black Flag” and “Crime Minister” movements will be protesting near the prime minister’s official residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem beginning from 13:00.
Today’s hearing will be mostly technical with the lawyers contesting whether the prosecution must transfer more documents to the defense. But the judges will also set a case schedule, which will signal how fast the case will proceed. Since Netanyahu is a sitting prime minister, the schedule will have massive political implications going forward.
Netanyahu himself must attend today’s session after a court order deemed such last Wednesday, May 20, following his request to be exempted from the need to be physically present in court until more substantive hearings are held. Today’s session will be conducted in the main courtroom in Jerusalem’s District Court and will be presided over by judges Rivka Friedman-Feldman, Moshe Bar-Am and Oded Shaham. Also expected to be present at the scene are Deputy State Attorney Liat Ben Ari and senior prosecutor Yonatan Tadmor, the four defendants, one defense lawyer for each defendant and security personnel for Netanyahu.
Attorney-General, Dr. Avichai Mandelblit, announced on November 21, 2019, his intention to indict Netanyahu for bribery in Case 4000, the Bezeq-Walla Affair; for breach of public trust in Case 1000, the Illegal Gifts Affair; and for breach of public trust in Case 2000, the Yediot Aharonot-Israel Hayom Affair. However, due to disputes over possible immunity, the indictments against Netanyahu were not filed until January 28, and the starting date of the trial was delayed by several months due to the March election and the coronavirus crisis.
In Case 4000, Netanyahu is accused of involvement in a media bribery scheme in which Walla owner Shaul Elovitch allegedly gave him positive coverage in exchange for Netanyahu’s setting government policies favoring Elovitch’s Bezeq Telecommunications Company to the tune of around NIS 1.8 billion (approximately $500,000,000). This will be the most difficult of the cases for Netanyahu, since he faces accusations by two close former aides who turned state witnesses, Shlomo Filber and Nir Hefetz.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu is accused of receiving hundreds of thousands of shekels in gifts from rich tycoons, mostly from Arnon Milchan, in exchange for help with business and personal-legal initiatives. In the past, Milchan was recruited to Lakam, a secret Israeli intelligence organization responsible for obtaining technology and material for Israel’s nuclear program and other highly secretive programs.
In Case 2000, Netanyahu is accused of acting to reduce the competition posed by the freely-distributed daily newspaper Israel Hayom, considered a personal platform for Netanyahu and his policies, with Israel’s broad-circulation commercial newspaper Yediot Aharonot, in exchange for positive coverage by the latter for Netanyahu.