Israel’s Netanyahu pleads not guilty to corruption ahead of election

His flimsy ruling coalition collapsed in December, and he now faces a major battle for reelection in March 23 parliamentary elections. They then argued against the cases on procedural grounds, saying the attorney general had not properly approved the investigations in writing.   At the start of his trial last May, Netanyahu was flanked by a cohort of Likud party allies as he railed against the media, police, judges and prosecutors. He boasts of having personally secured millions of doses from major drug makers, allowing Israel to vaccinate more than a third of its population of 9.3 million. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with his lawyers prior to a hearing at the district court in Jerusalem, February 8, 2021. The prosecution then rejected those arguments, saying the attorney general had approved the investigations in dozens of meetings. 8, 2021. The country is only now starting to emerge from its third nationwide lockdown, and the closures have sent unemployment skyrocketing. The country’s leaders have struggled to enact consistent policies and repeatedly accused each other of playing politics with the pandemic. He has refused to step down and has used his office as a bully pulpit against critics and the criminal justice system. Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu pleads not guilty as corruption trial resumes just weeks before election

February 8, 2021 / 7:05 AM
/ AP

Protesters in Israel rally against Netanyahu

Protesters in Israel rally against Netanyahu


Jerusalem — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pleaded not guilty on Monday as his trial on corruption charges resumed in a Jerusalem courtroom just weeks before national elections in which he hopes to extend his 12-year rule. In recent months, Israelis have held weekly protests calling on him to resign over the charges and criticizing his government’s response to the coronavirus crisis. First published on February 8, 2021 / 7:05 AM   Outside the courthouse, around 150 protesters chanted against Netanyahu.   Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing and has dismissed the charges against him as a “witch-hunt” orchestrated by biased law enforcement and media. The judges appeared skeptical and repeatedly called on the defense lawyers to wrap it up.   He stands accused of accepting lavish gifts from wealthy friends and offering to grant favors to powerful media moguls in exchange for favorable coverage of him and his family. Israeli law requires Cabinet ministers to resign when charged with criminal offenses, but does not specifically address the case of a prime minister under indictment.   Netanyahu was indicted last year for fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in three separate cases.   Netanyahu hopes to campaign on having pulled the country out of the pandemic through one of the world’s most successful vaccination campaigns. The latest hearing was postponed last month due to lockdown restrictions on public gatherings. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands at a hearing at the district court in Jerusalem, Feb. An emergency government formed last May to combat the coronavirus outbreak has been mired in bickering. Protesters gathered outside the courthouse could be heard inside the room where the hearing was being held. The margin of victory could be extremely tight, potentially allowing a small, fringe party to decide who heads the next government. Netanyahu will need the ultra-Orthodox parties to form a ruling coalition, and his critics accuse him of turning a blind eye to their violations. Israel has meanwhile reported nearly 700,000 cases since the outbreak began, including 5,121 deaths.   After around 20 minutes, Netanyahu left the courtroom without explanation and his motorcade departed. Reuven Castro/AP

Israel’s longest serving leader is also the first sitting prime minister to go on trial for corruption. Many carried banners reading “Crime Minister.”

Protesters, including one wearing a mask depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, gather outside the District Court during a hearing in his corruption trial, in Jerusalem, February 8, 2021.   Polls show Netanyahu’s Likud winning the most seats but struggling to form a 61-seat majority coalition in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. Maya Alleruzzo/AP

“We want a new government, a clean government, no corruption” said Sharon Sagy, a protester, “We don’t want Bibi Netanyahu, we want him to go, he needs to go,” she said, using his nickname.   At Monday’s hearing, Netanyahu’s lawyers submitted a written response pleading not guilty. Reuven Castro/AP

But his government has faced heavy criticism for other aspects of its response to the crisis.   One major controversy concerns Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, many of whom have openly flouted restrictions on public gatherings. He said the trial aimed to “depose a strong, right-wing prime minister, and thus remove the nationalist camp from the leadership of the country for many years.”   Netanyahu has served as Israel’s prime minister since 2009, and in the past two years has managed to hang onto power through three tumultuous, deadlocked elections. He hopes to vaccinate the entire adult population by late March.   The hearing continued in his absence, with his lawyers arguing for more than an hour that constitutional procedures had not been followed.