Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu briefly appeared during a Jerusalem courtroom Monday to reply formally to corruption charges just weeks before national elections during which he hopes to increase his 12-year rule.
Netanyahu was indicted last year for fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in three separate cases. In recent months, Israelis have held weekly protests calling on him to resign over the fees and criticizing his government's response to the coronavirus crisis. Protesters gathered outside the courthouse might be heard inside the space where the hearing was being held.
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. the newest hearing was postponed last month thanks to lockdown restrictions on public gatherings.
Israel’s longest serving leader is additionally the primary sitting prime minister to travel unproved for corruption. Israeli law requires Cabinet ministers to resign when charged with criminal offenses, but doesn't specifically address the case of a major minister under indictment.
Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing and has dismissed the fees against him as a “witch-hunt” orchestrated by biased enforcement and media. He has refused to step down and has used his office as a public office against critics and therefore the criminal justice system.
At Monday's hearing, Netanyahu submitted a written response to the allegations. His lawyer argued against the cases on procedural grounds, saying the attorney general had not properly approved the investigations. After around 20 minutes, Netanyahu left the courtroom without explanation and his motorcade departed. The hearing continued in his absence.
At the beginning 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 said the trial aimed to "depose a robust , right-wing prime minister, and thus remove the nationalist camp from the leadership of the country for several years.”
Netanyahu has served as Israel's prime minister since 2009, and within the past two years has managed to hold onto power through three tumultuous, deadlocked elections. His flimsy ruling coalition collapsed in December, and he now faces a serious battle for reelection in March 23 parliamentary elections.
Netanyahu hopes to campaign on having pulled the country out of the pandemic through one among the world's most successful vaccination campaigns. He boasts of getting personally secured many doses from major drug makers, allowing Israel to vaccinated quite a 3rd of its population of 9.3 million. He hopes to vaccinate the whole adult population by late March.
An emergency government formed last May to combat the coronavirus outbreak has been mired in bickering. The country's leaders have struggled to enact consistent policies and repeatedly accused one another of playing politics with the pandemic. Israel has meanwhile reported nearly 700,000 cases since the outbreak began, including 5,121 deaths.
One major controversy concerns Israel's ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, many of whom have openly flouted restrictions on public gatherings. Netanyahu will need the ultra-Orthodox parties to make a ruling coalition, and his critics accuse him of turning a blind eye to their violations.