Netanyahu trial to open on Sunday

First serving PM in history to sit on defendants’ bench.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a speech at his Jerusalem office, regarding the new measures that will be taken to fight the coronavirus, March 14, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/GALI TIBBON/POOL)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a speech at his Jerusalem office, regarding the new measures that will be taken to fight the coronavirus, March 14, 2020
On Sunday, “Defendant No. 1,” Benjamin Netanyahu, will become the first sitting prime minister in history to go on trial for public corruption.
Just as the indictment against Netanyahu was a major cause of the 18-month election-deadlock, the trial will hover as a cloud over virtually all major government decisions for the foreseeable future.
Netanyahu himself must physically attend after a court order regarding the issue on Wednesday despite his request for an exemption from attending until a more substantive hearing.
The main courtroom at the Jerusalem District Court will be presided over by judges Rivka Friedman-Feldman, Moshe Bar-Am and Oded Shaham, and is also expected to include Deputy State Attorney Liat Ben Ari and senior prosecutor Yonatan Tadmor, the four defendants, one defense lawyer for each defendant and security for Netanyahu.
In two adjacent courtrooms, there will be additional defense lawyers for the defendants, media and other related professionals involved.
Netanyahu’s legal team has not yet announced whether Amit Hadad and Micha Fettman will take the lead at Sunday’s hearing.
Hadad has been with Netanyahu since the start of the case back when the lead lawyer was Hadad’s then-boss, Jacob Weinroth, but many other lawyers have been on and off of the team since Weinroth passed away in 2018.
Fettman was added to the team relatively recently, but has more years of experience than the telegenic Hadad.
The other defendants are Bezeq and Walla owner Shaul Elovitch and his wife, Iris, (represented by Jacques Chen), as well as Yediot Aharonot owner Arnon “Noni” Mozes (represented by Navit Negev.)
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit announced on November 21, 2019, that he would indict 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 Aharonot-Israel Hayom Affair.
Due to fights over potential immunity, the Netanyahu indictment was not filed until January 28, and due to the election and the coronavirus crisis, the trial’s start date was delayed by several months.
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 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 Milchan, in exchange for 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.
The absence of a quid pro quo makes this case much weaker than Case 4000, but it is still viewed by most legal scholars as having at least a 50/50 chance.
Regarding Case 2000, Netanyahu was accused of working with Yediot Aharonot and Israel Hayom to reduce the latter’s competition with Yediot in exchange for positive coverage for Netanyahu.
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 Mozes with bribery.
Sunday’s hearing will be mostly technical with the lawyers fighting over whether the prosecution must transfer more documents to the defense.
But the judges will also set a case schedule, which will signal how fast the case will proceed.
Since Netanyahu is a sitting prime minister, the schedule will have massive political implications going forward.