Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Jerusalem in protest ahead of the opening of far-right Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s criminal trial Sunday afternoon, May 24. Netanyahu, the first Israeli prime minister to go on trial while in office, sat in the courtroom along with the other defendants in the three cases he faces charges on. They include Arnon Mozes, publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, Shaul Elovitch, former controlling shareholder of the Bezeq Telecommunications Company, and Elovitch’s wife Iris Elovitch.
Outside the prime minister’s official residence on Jerusalem’s Balfour Street, anti-Netanyahu protesters called for him to resign in light of the criminal allegations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust being presented in court.
Protesters from the Black Flag Movement decried attacks on the justice system being made by Netanyahu and his supporters. “The endless attacks on the judicial system are the reason a black flag is being waved across the country today,” one activist shouted. “A criminal defendant is not our prime minister.”
Outside the Jerusalem District Court in occupied East Jerusalem, where the opening hearing began at 3 pm, pro-Netanyahu demonstrators protested against the judicial system that brought him to the defendant’s bench. “Dreyfus Trial” read one placard comparing the case to the anti-Semitic show trial that rocked France at the turn of the 20th century.
Earlier, Netanyahu arrived at the courthouse flanked by ministers and lawmakers from his Likud party, delivering TV remarks before the start of the hearing, declaring that all his right-wing supporters were on trial along with him. “Elements in the police and State Attorney’s Office banded together with left-wing journalist to fabricate baseless cases against me,” he charged. “The goal is to oust a strong right-wing prime minister and to banish the right-wing camp from leadership of the country for many years.”
Blue & White leader, Benny Gantz, kept a low profile on Sunday, as his partner in the new government, Netanyahu, started his criminal trial. Gantz noticeably made a point of not speaking about the trial in Sunday’s cabinet meeting, which led to his former political partner in Blue & White, presumptive opposition leader Yair Lapid, mocking Gantz by saying that he had “invoked his right to remain silent.” Gantz instructed the members of his faction to show respect for Netanyahu and not to criticize him. Exactly a year ago, Gantz fiercely attacked Netanyahu at a massive pro-democracy rally in Tel Aviv. “We will not let you destroy the courts,” Gantz said at the time.
“The dangerous incitement by Netanyahu is a continuation of the racist incitement against Arabs in Israel”, Joint List chair, MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash) tweeted. He also called on Gantz and senior members of his Blue & White party, who were all aligned with Gantz’s initial election campaign to replace Netanyahu, to now speak out against “this unbridled incitement against the court. They remain silent during incitement against the Arab community and they remain silent now. They are serving under the defendant, giving him endorsement and will remain silent tomorrow, facing the annexation of the Palestinian occupied territories. This is a political disgrace.”