Israeli Politicians Lament Netanyahu Trial

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, speaks with his lawyers prior to a hearing at the district court. (AP Photo/Reuven Castro, Pool)

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu‏‏’s political rivals and supporters commented Monday on the resumption of his corruption trial, the first time a serving prime minister has gone to trial.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz issued a video message in which he said: “This is a hard and sad day for Israel and every citizen feels suffocated by it, but also an important day in which every person understands that nobody is immune from the law.”

“We are all equal before the law, including you, prime minister,” he intoned, and criticized him for his claims of a witch hunt, saying that “for long months the justice system has been under unprecedented attack. “This is a threat to Israeli democracy,” Gantz said.

Gideon Saar, a former Likud minister who recently set up his own party, New Hope, also found it to be a hard day. “This is a hard day for all of us and a hard day for Israel. This is a matter that politicians from all sides should not become involved in.”

Saar left Likud after failing to defeat him in primaries. In a resignation letter, he said he could no longer serve with Netanyahu because the prime minister was putting his own legal interests ahead of the national interest.

Opposition leader MK Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid party, in the latest of a long series of statements demanding Netanyahu’s resignation, accused the government of being dysfunctional while “busy with legal procedures.”

Transportation Minister Miri Regev voiced her loyalty: “We may not be with you physically, but we are with you from afar, offering our strength and support, she wrote online. Like many in the public, I believe in his innocence.”

Netanyahu had asked his supporters not to come to the court to demonstrate for him due to concerns about spreading the coronavirus.

Likud MK Osnat Mark called the hearing “another stage in the attempted political assassination called the Netanyahu cases.”

The Israeli media had its say, as well. Yedioth Ahronoth columnist Nahum Barnea argued that voters have already made up their minds and won’t be influenced by the trial.

“It’s doubtful anyone’s testimony will cause an upheaval or majorly change the agenda. Theoretically, prosecution witnesses should help Gideon Sa’ar’s party, which is built on Likudniks who are sick of corruption. But it’s safe to assume that anyone who would be moved by this testimony has already moved over to Sa’ar or [Naftali] Bennett. Like Trump, Netanyahu has also not left any room for doubt. Those for him are for him and those against him are against him,” he wrote.

An editorial in Haaretz urged the judges to proceed without delay: “Instead of blocking such a man from contending for the premiership, establishing a government or serving as its leader, they suggest that his trial simply be canceled, or at least postponed. How did they not think of that sooner? An innocent person is meant to welcome the opportunity to prove his innocence. But Netanyahu is fleeing from the law like an escaped convict.”

The pro-Netanyahu Yisrael Hayom ran the headline: “Netanyahu judges will decide today, a postponement, or a show trial.”

Meanwhile, the judges in the case said they will consider a request from Netanyahu for a 3-4 month postponement of the evidentiary phase now beginning, as the country goes to the polls on March 23.

Netanyahu predicted that they will agree to a postponement.

“It doesn’t seem to me that they’ll hurry [in court] to the evidentiary stage before the elections. In any case, that would be seen — even if that’s not the intention — as crude intervention in the elections.”

“If that happens, I’m telling you we’ll win [the elections] big time. But since we’re going to win [the elections] anyway, we don’t need to win that way. We don’t need it. [The timing of the next phase of the trial] needs to be handled with common sense, and I expect that will be the case,” the prime minister said during a press conference with a delegation from Greece in Israel on Monday to finalize a tourism agreement.

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