JERUSALEM (AP) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pleaded guilty on Monday as his trial on corruption charges began in a court room in Jerusalem weeks before the national election in which he was asked to extend his 12-year rule Was expected
Netanyahu was motivated last year to accept fraud, breach of trust and bribes in three separate cases. In recent months, Israelis resigned on charges and held weekly protests criticizing their government’s response to the coronovirus crisis. Protesters could be gathered inside the room where the hearing was going on.
He is accused of accepting lavish gifts from wealthy friends and proposing to favor powerful media moguls in exchange for favorable coverage of him and his family.. The latest hearing was postponed last month due to a lockout on public ceremonies.
Israel’s longest-serving leader is also the first prime minister to go on a corruption trial. Israeli law requires cabinet ministers to resign on charges of criminal offenses, but does not specifically address the case of a prime minister under indictment.
Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing and dismissed the allegations leveled against him as partisan law enforcement and the media have accused him of being a “witch-hunt”. He has refused to step down and has used his office as hooliganism against critics and the criminal justice system.
At Monday’s hearing, Netanyahu’s lawyers submitted a written reply, pleading not guilty. He then argued against the cases on procedural grounds, stating that the Attorney General did not approve the investigation in writing.
After about 20 minutes, Netanyahu left the courtroom without explanation and his motorcycle departed.
The hearing continued in his absence, with his lawyers arguing for more than an hour that constitutional procedures were not followed. The judges were skeptical and were repeatedly asked by defense lawyers to wrap it up. The prosecution then dismissed the pleas stating that the Attorney General had approved the investigation in dozens of meetings.
Outside the courtyard, around 150 protesters chanted against Netanyahu. Many banners read “Minister of Crime”.
“We want a new government, a clean government, no corruption”, said Sharon Saigy, a mentor, “We don’t want Bibi Netanyahu, we want her to go, she needs to go,” he Said using his surname.
At the beginning of his trial last May, Netanyahu was instigated by a co-worker of Likud party colleagues when he was raided against the media, police, judges and prosecutors. He said that “the removal of a strong, right-wing prime minister, and thereby removing the nationalist camp from the country’s leadership for many years.”
Netanyahu has served as the Israeli Prime Minister since 2009, and has managed to hold on to power through three thugs, deadlock elections in the last two years. His incumbent ruling coalition collapsed in December, and he now faces a major battle for election in the March 23 parliamentary elections.
Netanyahu hopes to campaign to get the country out of the epidemic Through one of the world’s most successful vaccination campaigns. He claims to receive millions of doses individually from major drug manufacturers, allowing Israel to vaccinate more than a third of the population of 9.3 million. He hopes to have the entire adult population vaccinated by the end of March.
But his government has faced heavy criticism for other aspects of its response to the crisis. The country is only now beginning to emerge from its third nationwide lockdown, and unemployment has skyrocketed by the closure.
An emergency government was formed last May to deal with outbreaks of coronovirus. The country’s leaders have consistently struggled to implement policies and have repeatedly accused each other of doing politics with an epidemic. Israel, meanwhile, reported about 1,00,000 cases since the outbreak began, with 5,121 deaths.
A major controversy concerns Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, many of whom have openly banned public ceremonies.. Netanyahu will need ultra-conservative parties to form the ruling coalition, and his critics accuse him of closing an eye for his violation.
Polls show that Netanyahu’s Likud won the most seats, but struggled for a coalition with a majority of 61 seats in Knesset, Israel’s parliament. The margin of victory can be extremely tight, potentially allowing for a smaller, fringe party To decide who is the head of the next government.
Associated Press writer Joseph Kruse in Jerusalem contributed to this report.