Hundreds demonstrated on Monday, February 8, outside Jerusalem’s district courthouse where far-right Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial has resumed after more than a half-year hiatus. Among the banners and signs carried by protesters were ones reading “Crime Minister,” one of the leading anti-Netanyahu organizations. The prime minister pleaded not guilty as he appeared before the panel of three judges to respond to the corruption charges against him.
Netanyahu, who is charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases, confirmed before the court his agreement to the written response his defense team submitted to the court on his behalf in January, arguing that he is innocent of all the charges against him. Netanyahu’s attorney, Boaz Ben, Zur requested that the evidentiary phase be postponed by three or four months, so it would begin only after the March 23 election.
During the court session the chanting of anti-Netanyahu protesters was clearly heard inside the courthouse, even though most of the surrounding neighborhood had been locked down by the police and “Shin Bet” (Israel Security Agency). In addition to the “Crime Minister” banners, protesters carried signs reading “Bibi go home,” “Bibi to jail,” and “Go vote,” and were led in their chanting of slogans by leaders carrying megaphones. Outside the courthouse only a lone pro-Netanyahu supporter was seen.
Earlier Monday morning, protesters dressed as prisoners and street cleaners laid out a red carpet near the Prime Minister’s official residence on Balfour Street in central Jerusalem. Over their uniforms they wore signs reading “Corruption Cleaners” and “Israel Prisons Service,” and carried brooms and garbage cans.
“A situation in which an incumbent prime minister appears in court as a defendant is a black mark for the State of Israel and its democracy,” the Crime Minister movement wrote in a press release issued Monday. “We must not normalize this madness. The COVID-19 failure, which has claimed more than 5,000 victims and which caused an economic and social disaster for the citizens of Israel, illustrates that a person accused of a crime cannot run a state. Today, more than ever, Israel needs a full-time prime minister and not a defendant who has made an alliance with racist Kahanists to escape trial.”