What does another Netanyahu trial delay mean for elections?

With the hearing moved back to February 8, does the court intend to start calling witnesses in March, maybe even the week of elections?

Likud MKs applaud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of his first trial hearing on Sunday (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Likud MKs applaud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of his first trial hearing on Sunday
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
No one really understands the events that led up to the Jerusalem District Court’s postponement of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s final hearing before calling witnesses from January 13 to February 8.
Acting Justice Minister Benny Gantz seemed to be taunting Netanyahu days before the decision with a comment on social media that the prime minister need not “worry” – his hearing would go on as scheduled.
Next, Gantz and the court spokesperson put out a statement that despite the extra strict lockdown going into effect, the courts would remain open.
There was some tricky language about allowing each judge to decide whether a hearing was important enough to hold during the lockdown or to grant a postponement, but no one seriously entertained that this was referring to the Netanyahu trial.
If any hearing was important to hold as scheduled, everyone assumed it was the Netanyahu trial.
In fact, the Israel Bar Association even objected to Gantz and the court spokesperson’s statement, saying that it was unfair that the whole system had to stay open, endangering lawyers to corona, simply so that the Netanyahu hearing could go forward.
Why then shortly after did the District Court postpone?
They certainly did not coordinate with Gantz.
Not only did his social media comment look powerless and out of touch, but it also highlighted that if Gantz had agreed to a full strict lockdown two weeks before when Netanyahu asked for it, the situation probably would have cleared up before January 13.
The District Court gave a simple small-minded explanation that with regulations of only five people in small rooms that this was too few to move forward.
Except that there has been widespread discussion about holding Netanyahu’s trial in a large courtroom at the Supreme Court, at Binyanei Haumah or at a large Tel Aviv courtroom.
The Supreme Court and Tel Aviv can fit 200 people, so they could easily fit 20 or more even in coronavirus times and Binyanei Haumah is even far larger.
The given reason that Netanyahu’s trial has continued in the run-down small Jerusalem District Court building is that he must be treated like any other citizen.
But that is not remotely accurate since no normal citizen would get delays from February 2018 until February 2021 between when the police recommended indicting them and when witnesses would be called.
Also, the court knew that the first lockdown delayed the Netanyahu pretrial hearings from March to May and that there have been numerous other delays.
There is also that election coming on March 23.
Until this latest delay, the most updated plan had been a last pretrial hearing on January 13 followed by calling witnesses three days a week starting in February.
With the hearing moved back to February 8, does the court intend to start calling witnesses in March, maybe even the week of elections?
If the court thought it was acting in the public interest with this latest postponement, such timing will almost for certain lead to allegations by Netanyahu of an attempt by the judiciary to harm him politically.
Paradoxically, this might even help Netanyahu get more votes by playing the victim.
Did the judges really not consider any of this at a time when the public dialogue is taking more serious than ever ideas for changing how the judiciary operates?
And if they wait until after the election to call witnesses, they will have given the prime minister a two-month delay and helped him avoid any hearings at all during election season.
Whatever the intent of the judges, they have now placed themselves in a no-win situation.