Netanyahu's trial begins outside the court – analysis

Will Netanyahu’s strategy of preaching to the public instead of pleading to the court succeed?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks outside of court ahead of the start of his trial, May 24, 2020 (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks outside of court ahead of the start of his trial, May 24, 2020
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Every media outlet in Israel and press from around the world waited for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trial to start and for the historic picture of him sitting in court before the judges, indicted and at their mercy.
The reason why that picture was so newsworthy was not only its historic value but also because this is Netanyahu, the man who has vanquished so many political opponents and who now had to plead his case before judges – people he has no control over.
The message from Sunday was supposed to be that Netanyahu was all alone and perhaps, for the first time, maybe a little powerless.
That is exactly the message that Netanyahu tried to reverse on Sunday.
Not only was he not alone, half of the Likud faction was with him, and the other half was speaking on his behalf in TV studios. Not only was he not powerless, he was feisty when delivering his speech to the public outside the courtroom.
The speech, which was defiant and packed with headlines, even may have overshadowed the proceedings in the courtroom, which were technical and bland. In his speech attacking the media, Netanyahu gave the press plenty to talk about, which they might not have had if they were left with what took place inside the hour-long hearing.
This was a great risk by Netanyahu. Other Israeli politicians have tried to campaign against the court and watched it backfire.
Most notably, Shas leader Arye Deri led a massive campaign with a memorable and touching theme song entitled “He is innocent.” The judges thought otherwise, and he served jail time.
Deri is now being investigated again, and this time around, he has changed his strategy completely. Since the probe began four years ago, he has not criticized the legal establishment in any way.
Netanyahu probably did not impress his three judges by implying that they were part of a conspiracy to depose him due to his political views. Calling them “wolves” who wanted him to be a “poodle” undoubtedly went well with his right-wing constituency, but there is no election scheduled any time soon.  
The fate of the prime minister will be decided not by Likud voters in Gedera and Hadera but by three judges in Jerusalem.
To them, Netanyahu will say what he has been saying for years: There will not be anything, because there wasn’t anything. In this trial, Netanyahu’s lawyers will get their chance to prove it.
The major accomplishment of Netanyahu’s lawyers on day one was that their client will not have to come to procedural hearings in the future, so there will be fewer pictures of him sitting in court.
The lawyers will have to decide whether Netanyahu will continue to take the risk he did on Sunday of creating his own stage in the courtroom of public opinion.