Half of the Likud faction came to the Jerusalem District Court on Sunday to show support for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as his trial began.
They stood beside Netanyahu as he delivered his defense to the public outside the courtroom and posed for pictures with him in the courtroom before the trial began.
The ministers who came to the court to support Netanyahu included Amir Ohana, Miri Regev, Tzachi Hanegbi, Tzipi Hotovely, Eli Cohen, David Amsalem and Yoav Galant. MK Nir Barkat, who was not given a portfolio, made his presence felt, as did the next candidates to enter the Knesset on the Likud list, Ariel Kallner and Osnat Hila Mark.
“I am here to strengthen Netanyahu and his family,” Regev said. “It’s a sad day for Israeli democracy. It’s not just Netanyahu. All of his supporters are on trial. I hope the judges do justice and do not fall into the trap of the press. I believe that all of Netanyahu’s cases will collapse.”
Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, who did not come to the court, wrote on Facebook on Sunday: “The day that Netanyahu’s trial began will be remembered as one of the lowlights in the history of the Israeli legal system.”
Levin said he was sure Netanyahu’s cases would not lead to a conviction.
“I am standing on the side of the prime minister, the truth and justice,” he wrote.
Responding to Netanyahu’s speech outside the court, presumptive opposition leader Yair Lapid called it incitement and said it proved why a defendant in a criminal trial cannot continue to serve as prime minister.
Lapid on Sunday morning slammed the ministers who joined Netanyahu at his first court appearance at the beginning of his trial.
“The ministers joining Netanyahu in court, even those in charge of law enforcement, are a national disgrace,” he wrote on Twitter. “This is the real attempt at a coup.”
Meretz faction chairwoman Tamar Zandberg said the Likud MKs had been the background for the “wild incitement of a man under indictment.” Israel had descended to a country run by the Mafia, she said.
“Sicily is here,” Zandberg said.
Alex Winston contributed to this report.