Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s longest serving prime minister, has been charged with three counts of corruption. According to BBC News, Netanyahu is accused of fraud and a breach of trust. His opponents allege that he accepted expensive gifts, such as cigars and wines, from billionaire businessmen. BBC News continues that “Mr. Netanyahu is accused of offering to help improve the circulation of Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot in exchange for positive coverage.” He has also allegedly worked with another news source in order to improve his image in the media by promoting regulatory decisions that would benefit Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in the Bezeq telecom giant, in a quid pro quo and that would give Netanyahu more positive coverage on Elovitch’s news site. Netanyahu denies these allegations and is pleading not guilty on all counts in the Jerusalem district court.
According to The Washington Post, on the first day of the corruption trial on February 8, Netanyahu plead not guilty and walked out of the courtroom just 20 minutes into his trial. This comes after Netanyahu asked his legal team to convince the court to postpone the hearing until after the Israeli elections on March 23, 2021. However, his lawyers failed to delay the trial, which continued without Netanyahu’s presence. Since he stands by his innocence, Netanyahu is carrying on with his prime ministerial duties as usual, instead of attending the hearing.
Axios cites Netanyahu, who claimed that “everybody knows the cases against me are rigged. This is why I don’t think the hearing of witnesses in my trial should begin before the elections because even if it is not the intention, it would look like a flagrant interference in the elections.” Netanyahu’s refusal to leave office proves his strength to his supporters and why he has been previously elected three times to be prime minister. According to Al Jazeera, weekly protests against Netanyahu have persisted on for months with demonstrators from the “Crime Minister” movement focusing on the graft allegations. Others have protested against how the government has been dealing with the pandemic. A counter-protest movement backing Netanyahu has also taken to the streets.
According to The New York Times, if Netanyahu is found guilty, he could face prison time. However, the trial could last for years and the prosecutors fear that Netanyahu will continue to postpone the trial, even past the elections on March 23, 2021. Reuters aaserts, “he will fight to remain prime minister in March and possibly for years afterwards. If he wins, he could try to secure parliamentary immunity, or pass laws to exempt a serving prime minister from standing trial.” Netanyahu could stay in power throughout the trial and if he wins the election, he will remain in office. According to Reuters News, “under Israeli law, a prime minister is under no obligation to stand down unless convicted,” a unique element of Israel’s government and constitution.
The trial of Netanyahu on corruption charges has caused a division within the country, between those who support Netanyahu and those who have long distrusted his decisions as prime minister. Those who do not support Netanyahu fear that the goal hoped for of relieving him of his post and sentencing him to prison, will not be achieved. The opposition believes the trial will take months, or even years before it is completed. However long it takes, Netanyahu also has the support of his right wing.