Corruption trial of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu to begin

The corruption trial of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, originally slated for mid-March but delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic,

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu in a cabinet meeting in March

Photo: AP Photo/Oded Balilty, Pool

The corruption trial of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, originally slated for mid-March but delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will begin today.

Netanyahu, who has served as Israel’s prime minister since 2009, was officially indicted last November on counts of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Despite the indictment, the PM’s political power has not significantly weakened. In Israel’s March election, Netanyahu’s Likud party emerged with the largest share of votes, allowing him to remain in power in a coalition agreement signed with rival Benny Gantz in April. Some of this popularity could be attributed to Netanyahu’s aggressive social media attacks against his prosecutors. Just days after his indictment, he claimed on national television that the attorney general was attempting a “coup”. On Wednesday, he called a court decision forcing him to attend the first session of his trial “a continuation of the ‘Just not Bibi [Netanyahu]’ campaign.”

While Netanyahu remains popular, the Jerusalem District Court is considered to be independent of his influence and could find him guilty. Some fear that Netanyahu may utilise a future crisis, like a second wave of COVID-19 infections, to suspend the courts and temporarily escape trial. Such a move could have serious implications for the rule of law in Israel. Regardless of the outcome, the length of the trial has the potential to severely tarnish Netanyahu’s image. But if he is found guilty, his lengthy political career could be over.

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