Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pleaded not guilty on Monday to all corruption charges against him. He did so in what was his second court appearance after several postponements due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The arrival at the building of the man popularly known as "Bibi" was marked by a large security deployment in the face of the concentration formed against him outside the courthouse. Dozens of demonstrators gathered outside the courthouse with banners "Bibi, go away" and "Bibi to jail". "We have worked hard to get him tried. We have come to make sure he doesn't run away. We will accompany him until he goes to prison," one of the protesters told the German news agency DPA.
For his part, Netanyahu had asked all his supporters not to hold rallies and to respect the measures imposed to fight the pandemic. The prime minister appeared alongside other defendants in the case and his testimony was as terse as it was emphatic: "I confirm the answer presented by my lawyers". This was a far cry from the first day of the trial when he made harsh statements against prosecutors, investigators and the media. What he says out of court is another matter. Last Sunday, without going any further, he again denounced "fabricated and false cases against me. Everyone understands that this is a transparent attempt to bring down the strong right-wing prime minister".
In May 2020, Netanyahu became the first chief executive to be tried for corruption while in office, after being indicted in November 2019 by Avichai Mandelblit, the state prosecutor general, following months of investigation into several cases. One of the most serious is 4000, in which he faces charges of bribery, breach of trust and fraud for pushing through certain regulations that favoured Bezeq Group's majority shareholder Shaul Elovitch. In return, he offered favourable coverage of the Walla portal.
Cases 1000 and 2000 are also noteworthy. In the former, Netanyahu will be charged with fraud and breach of trust for receiving illicit gifts worth around 700,000 shekels (around 183,000 euros). In 2000, the prime minister will be charged with the same offences, but this time for making a deal with "Yedioth Ahronoth" with the aim of undermining the competing media outlet "Israel Hayom" in exchange for more favourable coverage of "Bibi" in the former newspaper.
However, the lawyers of Israel's prime minister for the time being consider the current proceedings to be a violation of the Basic Law with constitutional rank, since there is no written permission from the prosecutor Mandelblit, a prerequisite for the opening of the investigation of Netanyahu. Meanwhile, the state prosecutor maintains that the investigation, although not in writing, was authorised. The speaker of parliament and Netanyahu's confidant, Yariv Levin, had requested a new postponement of the trial until after the elections that will take place on Tuesday 23 March. The elections will be the fourth in barely two years and, according to the accounts, will be little affected by the outcome of the trial in which the prime minister is immersed.
What does seem to be decisive is the Israeli public's judgement of the COVID-19 crisis, the deadlines for vaccination and the date of the long-awaited return to normality. It is true that no poll doubts that, in a month and a half, Netanyahu's Likud party will be the most voted party. Not only because of his good management of the pandemic, making his country one of the most advanced in the world in terms of immunity. The division of the centrist Blue and White bloc, caused by the decision of its leader Benny Gantz to form a rotating government with the current prime minister after the elections of 2 March 2020, breaking his main electoral promise, makes Benjamin Netanyahu's new victory even more likely.