Netanyahu Attends His Corruption Trial’s Opening Day
Jerusalem streets come alive during dramatic day in court
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s armored entourage pulled into the back entrance of Jerusalem’s District Court early Monday morning, discharging the nation’s leader into the bowels of the sprawling white stone building.
Moments later, while outside the court gates hundreds of the prime minister’s supporters gathered to chant words of encouragement, Netanyahu, ordered last week by the judges to appear, rose from the bench and listened to the state prosecution’s opening statement.
Netanyahu is standing trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
“The prime minister, according to this indictment, abused the governing power entrusted to him, in order to wrongly demand and procure goods … and to advance his personal interests,” the case’s chief prosecutor, Liat Ben Ari, said in her remarks.
In three separate indictments, Netanyahu is accused of severe crimes.
The prime minister, entering his 13th consecutive year in office, allegedly accepted lavish gifts and demanded positive press coverage in several news outlets in return for the abolishment of regulations and passing law amendments benefiting communications tycoons and newspaper publishers to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.
Later on Monday, in an impromptu press statement, Netanyahu responded to the morning’s events.
“Improper use of government power?” the prime minister mockingly quoted his prosecutors. “What hypocrisy. The improper use of authority was by the prosecution. They’re trying to bring down a strong right-wing leader,” he said.
Netanyahu called the proceedings “a sham, a fixed trial,” adding: “This is an attempted coup.”
At the trial Monday morning, Ben Ari also stressed that “the only place where the facts must be established is within the legal process and in front of the esteemed court.”
Only several meters away, protesters assembled outside the courthouse as the trial continued inside sounded their clear disagreement with the prosecutor’s sentiment.
“What they are doing to the prime minister is a coup,” accused Shoshana Idsis from Tel Aviv.
Prosecutors “thought he’d quit, but they were wrong. He’s very strong, he’s going to fight them all the way,” she told The Media Line.
Hundreds of Netanyahu sympathizers lined the streets of the usually low-key Arab neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where the district court is located.
Behind a police barricade and dozens of police cars, a stage with a powerful sound system was erected.
One by one, members of parliament from Netanyahu’s Likud party stepped onstage to give impassioned speeches about the leader’s righteous battle with the allegedly corrupt judicial system.
“We came here to support our prime minister and express our love for him,” Tali, who joined the crowd with matching shirt, flag and stickers all branded with the Likud logo and pictures of Netanyahu, told The Media Line.
“We are against the court, which is a satanic cult. Today it’s Bibi, tomorrow it could be anyone else,” she added, calling Netanyahu by his nickname.
Separated by two robust police barriers, armed guards, ambulances, officers and about 200 meters, an opposing group of demonstrators shouted contradictory slogans.
“Bibi, it’s time to go,” hundreds of anti-Netanyahu protesters yelled, aided by their own loudspeakers, drums, pots and pans.
“We’re here to back the court, not to give in to Bibi’s incitement,” Anat, who came to the capital from Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael in northern Israel, told The Media Line.
“The atmosphere in the country, because of [Netanyahu’s] controlling the media, is for limiting the court’s power and restricting law enforcement institutions. We need to support them,” she also said.
Flanked by signs reading “Crime Minister” and keeping up an incessant racket, the protesters remained just outside the court gates until the prime minister departed the building nearly two hours after he first arrived.
In his absence, Netanyahu’s trial pressed on, as the first of hundreds of prosecution witnesses took the stand.
Outside, demonstrators began marching through the Jerusalem streets toward the location of another major event.
In a bizarre twist of fate that would probably be considered too fantastic by Hollywood screenwriters, coinciding with Netanyahu’s court appearance on Monday was President Reuven Rivlin’s meetings with representatives of the parties elected to serve in the next parliament, two weeks after the latest general elections, which again did not produce a clear winner.
Only a few blocks away from the district court, Rivlin hosted representatives from every party at his official residence, to consult with each delegation before he appoints a candidate to form the next government.
The individual nominated by the president will have one month – with a possible two-week extension – to present a coalition.
After the four consecutive election rounds over the last two years failed to produce a stable, long-term government largely due to Netanyahu’s ongoing legal battles, no one in Israel would be surprised if by early May the country is hurled into a fifth new election.
“I believe there is hope,” Anat said. “If I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t be protesting here today. People don’t take to the streets if they’re hopeless.”
Back in Sheikh Jarrah on a sunny Monday noon, Arab shop owners slowly reopened their doors as the final stragglers cleared the streets and police loaded their vehicles and drove off.
“We have to put up with it. The whole neighborhood is closed off for the entire morning, no business, no traffic, nothing,” Yousef, a pharmacist, told The Media Line.
“But what are you gonna do?” he smiled. “It’s all a show – Yes Bibi, No Bibi. What’s the difference?”