Much like Israel’s political morass, which is largely a byproduct of Benjamin Netanyahu’s legal troubles, the corruption trial of the former prime minister — and leading contender in the election on Tuesday — has no clear end in sight.
The Israeli electorate remains divided between Mr. Netanyahu’s supporters, who believe that he has been framed by a liberal deep state, and his diverse array of opponents, who consider him unfit to return to the office from which he was ousted 16 months ago.
Mr. Netanyahu denies all wrongdoing and says that the cases against him are collapsing in court.
The trial itself has been limping along, largely forgotten, and has been barely featured in the election campaign this time around, perhaps reflecting the fatigue of voters who are going back to the ballot box for the fifth time in under four years.
As the Jerusalem District Court makes its way through a list of more than 300 witnesses, the court proceedings rarely make headlines nowadays. Public interest has waned as the legal saga has played out.
Mr. Netanyahu was charged three years ago, after more than two years of police investigations, in three separate but interconnecting cases. They involve accusations that he gave or offered lucrative official favors to several media tycoons in exchange for favorable news coverage for him and his family, or gifts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Existing law requires an ordinary government minister to resign when under indictment but allows a prime minister to remain in office until a final court verdict, after appeals have been exhausted — a process that, at the current pace of the court proceedings, could take years.
The court is hearing all three cases in parallel, instead of one after the other, slowing down the prospect of a verdict in any of them.
About 20 witnesses have testified so far. The first witness to take the stand, in April 2021, was Ilan Yeshua, the former chief executive officer of Walla, the Hebrew news site owned by a communications tycoon at the center of the bribery charge against Mr. Netanyahu. Mr. Yeshua’s testimony went on for months.
Two former close confidants of Mr. Netanyahu who turned state witness have also testified.
The most recent testimony came from the driver of the Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and an Australian billionaire, James Packer, who between them sent hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts to the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem and at times to the Netanyahu family’s private home in the seaside town of Caesarea, mainly in the form of a regular supply of luxury cigars and cases of Champagne.
In return, Mr. Netanyahu is accused of taking actions benefiting Mr. Milchan on a visa application, a tax exemption and a business merger.
Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of the far-right Religious Zionism party in Mr. Netanyahu’s bloc, has already announced a sweeping overhaul of the justice system that would include canceling the offenses of fraud and breach of trust from the criminal code.
Mr. Netanyahu insists that any such change would not apply to him retroactively. But to exclude him from such a legal amendment would require making him an exception under the law.
Source link here