JERUSALEM: Israel’s legal and political dramas converged Monday, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced court in his corruption trial while his bid to form a government after another inconclusive election reached a critical phase.
The 71-year-old veteran premier — who last month contested his fourth election in less than two years — arrived at the Jerusalem courthouse where he was met by supporters but also opponents who called him Israel’s “crime minister”.
Israel’s first premier to be indicted in office was ordered to appear in person at Jerusalem’s District Court for the opening arguments in a case where is charged with bribery, fraud of breach of trust.
As court proceedings got underway, President Reuven Rivlin held talks to determine which party leader has the best chance of forming a stable government following the March 23 election.
Israel remains mired in the worst political crisis in its 73-year history, with voters and the 120-member parliament bitterly split over whether Netanyahu deserves to extend his record tenure of 12 consecutive years.
Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party finished first in the polls almost two weeks ago, winning 30 seats, but his path to a 61-seat absolute majority is precarious.
The anti-Netanyahu camp, however, lacks a clear leader, is ideologically divided and will also struggle to forge a majority coalition.
Netanyahu, wearing a black face mask and a dark suit, sat in court as lead prosecutor Liat Ben-Ari told judges that the premier was involved in “a serious case of government corruption”.
He has been charged with accepting improper gifts and seeking to trade regulatory favours with media moguls in exchange for positive coverage — allegations which he denies.
Ben-Ari said Netanyahu had “made illegitimate use of the great governmental power entrusted to him,” in his dealings with media executives “in order to advance his personal affairs”.
In an unscheduled address hours after the hearing had ended, Netanyahu insisted it was the prosecution that abused its office.
“This is what a coup looks like,” he charged in inflammatory remarks indirectly aimed at Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, a Netanyahu appointee who filed the charges against the prime minister.
Published in Dawn, April 6th, 2021