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Netanyahu appears in court on corruption charges

By
Allen Cone
Israelis rally outside the Jerusalem District Court during a hearing for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday in East Jerusalem. Netanyahu, who is the first prime minister in Israel's history to stand trail while in office, is charged with fraud, breach of trust and bribery. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI
Israelis rally outside the Jerusalem District Court during a hearing for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday in East Jerusalem. Netanyahu, who is the first prime minister in Israel's history to stand trail while in office, is charged with fraud, breach of trust and bribery. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo

May 24 (UPI) -- Benjamin Netanyahu appeared in a courtroom in Jerusalem on Sunday for arraignment on bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges -- the first prime minister of Israel in office to stand trial.

The date of the actual trial wasn't determined though the judges set the next hearing for July 19.

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Netanyahu's supporters demonstrated outside the District Court building against the judicial system. His opponents, appearing outside his official Jerusalem residence, called on him to resign.

Netanyahu's fate will be decided by a panel of three judges -- Rivka Friedman-Feldman, Moshe Bar-Am and Oded Shaham -- on whether he should be convicted in three separate cases involving his alleged efforts to control various aspects of Israeli media. Three other defendants are also on trial.

The state prosecution and Netanyahu's defense lawyers disagreed over the start of the actual trial.

State prosecution team leader Liat Ben Ari didn't offer a specific date, but suggested that she believes the trial could start within around three months. Defense attorney Micha Feitman wants one to start in spring 2021.

Netanyahu entered wearing a mask during the coronavirus pandemic and didn't sit with the other defendants until the photographers left the courtroom. The others on trial are Arnon Mozes, publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper; Shaul Elovitch, controlling shareholder of the Bezeq telecommunications company; and Elovitch's wife, Iris Elovitch.

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Netanyahu was compelled attend this court session but the judges agreed the prime minister won't need to attend future procedural hearings.

When asked if he understood the indictment, Netanyahu responded, "Yes. I have read the indictment and I understand it."

After the hearing, Netanyahu said: "What is on trial today is the attempt to thwart the will of the people: To bring us down, the nationalist camp, by way of fabricated cases. With your help, and the help of God, I will continue to fight."

On Nov. 21, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced that he would indict Netanyahu for the three charges but because of fights over potential immunity, the Netanyahu indictment was not filed until Jan. 28.

Then, because of the election and the coronavirus crisis, the trial's start date was delayed by several months.

Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz are linked to a coalition government after elections became deadlocked with no majority.

Netanyahu is scheduled to transfer prime minister duties to Gantz in November 2022.

Although Gantz had campaigned in three elections for an end to Netanyahu's tenure because of the charges, he posted on Twitter: "Just like every citizen, the prime minister too has the presumption of innocence, and I am sure that the justice system will give him a fair trial.

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"I again emphasize that my colleagues and I have full faith in the justice system and law enforcement," he added. "At this time, perhaps more than ever, as a state and a society, we must seek unity and reconciliation, for the sake of the country and all of its citizens."

Earlier, Netanyahu delivered televised remarks.

"Elements in the police and State Attorney's Office banded together with left-wing journalists... to fabricate baseless cases against me," he said. "The goal is to oust a strong right-wing prime minister and to banish the right-wing camp from leadership of the country for many years."

Netanyahu said police officers made up claims that he had sent private sleuths to track investigators.

"These investigations were corrupted and fabricated from the start," he said.

Elovitch allegedly gave him positive coverage in exchange for the prime minister making government policies favoring Bezeq company for $510 million.

In another case, Netanyahu is accused of receiving gifts worth $200,000 from rich tycoons, mostly from Arnon Milchan, in exchange for help with business and personal legal initiatives.

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