VIDEO: Netanyahu Pleads Not Guilty As Corruption Trial Resumes

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on prior to a hearing at the district court in Jerusalem, Monday, Feb. 8, 2021. Netanyahu appeared in a Jerusalem courtroom Monday to respond formally to corruption charges just weeks before national elections in which he hopes to extend his 12-year rule. (AP Photo/Reuven Castro, Pool)

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pleaded not guilty on Monday as his trial on corruption charges resumed in a Jerusalem courtroom just weeks before national elections in which he hopes to extend his 12-year rule.

Netanyahu was indicted last year for fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in three separate cases. In recent months, Israelis have held weekly protests calling on him to resign over the charges and criticizing his government’s response to the coronavirus crisis. Protesters gathered outside the courthouse could be heard inside the room where the hearing was being held.

He stands accused of accepting lavish gifts from wealthy friends and offering to grant favors to powerful media moguls in exchange for favorable coverage of him and his family. The latest hearing was postponed last month due to lockdown restrictions on public gatherings.

Israel’s longest-serving leader is also the first sitting prime minister to go on trial for corruption. Israeli law requires Cabinet ministers to resign when charged with criminal offenses, but does not specifically address the case of a prime minister under indictment.

Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing and has dismissed the charges against him as a “witch-hunt” orchestrated by biased law enforcement and media.

At Monday’s hearing, Netanyahu’s lawyers submitted a written response pleading not guilty. They then argued against the cases on procedural grounds, saying the attorney general had not properly approved the investigations in writing.

After around 20 minutes, Netanyahu left the courtroom without explanation and his motorcade departed.

The hearing continued in his absence, with his lawyers arguing for more than an hour that constitutional procedures had not been followed. The judges appeared skeptical and repeatedly called on the defense lawyers to wrap it up. The prosecution then rejected those arguments, saying the attorney general had approved the investigations in dozens of meetings.

At the start of his trial last May, Netanyahu was flanked by a cohort of Likud party allies as he railed against the media, police, judges and prosecutors. He said the trial aimed to “depose a strong, right-wing prime minister, and thus remove the nationalist camp from the leadership of the country for many years.”

Netanyahu has served as Israel’s prime minister since 2009, and in the past two years has managed to hang onto power through three tumultuous, deadlocked elections. His flimsy ruling coalition collapsed in December, and he now faces a major battle for reelection in March 23 parliamentary elections.

Netanyahu hopes to campaign on having pulled the country out of the pandemic through one of the world’s most successful vaccination campaigns. He boasts of having personally secured millions of doses from major drugmakers, allowing Israel to vaccinated more than a third of its population of 9.3 million. He hopes to vaccinate the entire adult population by late March.

But his government has faced heavy criticism for other aspects of its response to the crisis. The country is only now starting to emerge from its third nationwide lockdown, and the closures have sent unemployment skyrocketing.

An emergency government formed last May to combat the coronavirus outbreak has been mired in bickering. The country’s leaders have struggled to enact consistent policies and repeatedly accused each other of playing politics with the pandemic. Israel has meanwhile reported nearly 700,000 cases since the outbreak began, including 5,121 deaths.

Polls show Netanyahu’s Likud winning the most seats but struggling to form a 61-seat majority coalition in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. The margin of victory could be extremely tight, potentially allowing a small, fringe party to decide who heads the next government.

(AP)


1 COMMENT

  1. They can bicker all they want. The world has Israel to envy for the speed and organized vaccination effort. While in Israel they are already vaccinating 16 year olds, here in the US 80 year olds are struggling to find a place to get vaccinated! All this when the two primary current vaccines are US manufacturers!! Now how insane and backwards is that? Let’s see how far behind we can lag when J&J- yet another US company enters the fray with their vaccine!