On Sunday, the trial of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges opened in Jerusalem, days after he began a new term in office.
Prime Minister Netanyahu is the first standing leader to face trial in Israel’s history. He denies accusations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
Arriving at the courthouse for a brief hearing, he said the cases were aimed at “toppling him in any way possible”.
Netanyahu was indicted in November 2019 in cases involving gifts from millionaire friends and for allegedly seeking regulatory favours for media tycoons in return for favourable coverage.
The hearing lasted an hour. The court excused Netanyahu from appearing in person at the next hearing, set for 19th July, with the judges saying he would not have to return to court until the evidence stage. It is unlikely that therefore that Netanyahu will appear in court before the end of the year. Israeli analysts say the trial could last months or even years.
Before the hearing, Netanyahu appealed to public opinion, taking off his mask to address television cameras in the courthouse hallway: “These investigations were tainted and stitched-up from the first moment. I am appearing here today, as your Prime Minister, standing tall and with head high”.
In a statement, Israel’s Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit said prosecutors “will continue to conduct themselves without fear, even given the preposterous attempt – which should be rejected out of hand – to ascribe ulterior motives to law-enforcement authorities”.
Supporters of Netanyahu, rallied outside the courthouse, chanting “Bibi, King of Israel”. Meanwhile, anti-Netanyahu demonstrators gathered outside his residence in central Jerusalem holding up a banner reading “Crime Minister”.