Court rejects Netanyahu's request to postpone opening of trial

The attorney-general said it was important to hold the first hearing to resolve the remaining disputes and set a schedule for the rest of the trial.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting on March 8, 2020 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting on March 8, 2020
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Jerusalem District Court Judge Rivkah Friedman-Feldman on Tuesday rejected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request on Sunday for a 45-day postponement for the opening of his trial, currently set for March 17.
Friedman-Feldman's decision echoed Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit opposition to the extension saying that Netanyahu did not need to enter a formal plea which would require having already resolved all documentary disputes between the sides.
Rather, the attorney-general said it was important to hold the first hearing to resolve the remaining disputes and set a schedule for the rest of the trial.
Friedman-Feldman, in her first time ruling on anything related to the Netanyahu case, agreed with Mandelblit.
On Sunday, Netanyahu’s lawyer, Amit Hadad, explained in a short video that the request was merely for a technical delay to receive additional evidentiary materials that they had sought from the prosecution months ago.
Generally, the first hearing of a trial is used specifically for resolving such issues, such that it would be unexpected for the court to grant a delay to resolve the issues outside of court unless Mandelblit had consented.
Mandelblit had previously told Netanyahu's lawyers that they have already received either all or nearly all of the evidence that is due to them, and that any remaining evidentiary disputes should be resolved at the March 17 hearing.
In the Monday letter, Mandelblit also said that Hadad had been offered access to additional evidence in late February, but that Hadad had said he would rather wait to receive the evidence until the state prosecution scanned it for him.
The three judge panel for the public corruption trial includes: Rivkah Friedman-Feldman, Moshe Bar-Am and Oded Shaham.
A decision on the opening date for the trial and for the panel had been stalled since the indictment against Netanyahu was filed on January 28.
Although there was initially greater potential for the trial to open before the March 2 elections, it eventually became clear that the court wanted the trial opening postponed until after election day.
Netanyahu officially became the first sitting prime minister in Israel’s history to be indicted on January 28 when Mandelblit filed an indictment with the Jerusalem District Court against him for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, just hours after Netanyahu withdrew his immunity request.
Mandelblit announced his final indictment on November 21, but could not file it with the courts until the immunity request process was concluded.
The months delay in filing the indictment came from Netanyahu’s unusual request for immunity (which most ministers have not requested) and the fact that the Knesset has been out of session for an extended period.
Hours after announcing the indictment on November 21, Mandelblit gave a speech in which he said that it was personally sad for him to indict Netanyahu, who he personally greatly admired in terms of talents, but that he was obligated by the law to do so.
The attorney-general ultimately indicted Netanyahu for bribery in Case 4000, the “Bezeq-Walla! Affair,” for breach of public trust in Case 1000, the “Illegal Gifts Affair” and for breach of public trust in Case 2000, the “Yediot Ahronot-Yisrael Hayom Affair.”
In Case 4000, Netanyahu is accused of involvement in a media bribery scheme in which Walla! owner Shaul Elovitch allegedly gave him positive coverage in exchange for Netanyahu making government policies favoring Elovitch’s Bezeq company to the tune of around NIS 1.8 billion.
This is the hardest case for Netanyahu, since he faces accusations by two close former aides turned state witnesses, Shlomo Filber and Nir Hefetz.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu is accused of receiving hundreds of thousands of shekels in gifts from rich tycoons, mostly from Arnon Milchin, in exchange for a variety of help with business and personal-legal initiatives. The charge itself is for acting in situations in which the prime minister had a conflict of interest, since no actual quid pro quo can be proven.
In Case 2000, Netanyahu was accused of working with Yediot and Yisrael Hayom to reduce the latter’s competition with Yediot in exchange for positive coverage for Netanyahu in Yediot. The deal never went through, but the law has crimes of attempted bribery and breach of trust which can apply even if a deal does not go through. Mandelblit was never a fan of Case 2000, but decided he needed to charge Netanyahu with something once they indicted Yediot owner Arnon Nuni Mozes with bribery.