On Sunday Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu appeared in court, becoming the first prime minister in the history of Israel to stand trial . Here is everything you need to know.
What are the Charges Netanyahu is Facing?
In case 1,000 Netanyahu is being accused of fraud and breach of trust for accepting gifts from businessmen. Specifically, he is suspected of receiving gifts worth $264,000 from businessman Arnon Milchan. They included expensive cigars and jewelry. Netanyahu is also suspected of trying to help the businessman obtain a US visa, in addition to being involved with Milchan in a deal to sell Israel’s Channel 10.
Case 2,000 which is also about Fraud and breach of trust, Netanyahu was recorded discussing a mutually favorable quid pro quo with Arnon Mozes the owner of Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper. It involved Mozes giving Netanyahu positive coverage in Yedioth and Ynet news in return for protection from competition. To achieve this, Netanyahu was to limit the distribution of rival newspapers through government legislation.
In case 4,000 Netanyahu is being accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust for promoting regulatory decisions favorable to Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Israel’s biggest telecommunication company Bezeq. This was in exchange for positive coverage in Mr Elovitch’s Walla news site.
What Was the First Hearing About?
Netanyahu’s first trial began on Sunday in Court room 317 of the Jerusalem District Court. The judges were Rivka Friedman-Feldman, Moshe Bar-Am and Oded Shaham. During the hearing, all charges were read to Netanyahu so that he was aware of the allegations against him. He responded by saying “yes.”
Apart from drawing a schedule for witnesses, It was also about resolving technical issues on whether Netanyahu’s lawyers had received all the necessary evidence.
Netanyahu’s legal team had initially requested the court to allow him to skip the hearing arguing that his huge security detail could breach the social distancing measures introduced to deal with coronavirus. According to them, this could also affect the number of lawyers and journalists who were to play an important role during the trial.
But this was rejected by the prosecutors who insisted that Netanyahu had to be present to plead innocent or guilty, also pointing out that his presence was important for the public ‘s faith and respect for the legal process . However, he was allowed to skip the next hearing which will take place on July 19, with the judges saying that he would be required to return during the evidence stage.
The hearing was supposed to be held in March but was postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic.
How Long Will the Trial Last?
According to a report by Israel Hayom, Netanyahu’s trial could last three years and will most likely end after the dissolution of the newly formed government. The new government is expected to last for around three years with Netanyahu and Benny Gantz alternating as prime minister .
But it will depend on how fast the judges move through the trial since they have great influence over the duration. According to Jerusalem Post “How fast they move the trial impacts the verdict date, a potential date of going to prison. “
Ehud Olmert resigned as Likud leader but remained prime minister until the 2009 election after he was accused of corruption. His trial opened on September 25, 2009 and ended on July 10, 2014. He only began his jail sentence in 2016. It is, therefore, a long process.
Will Netanyahu Continue Serving as Prime Minister?
Israeli law does not require the prime minister to resign in the case of an indictment. On the other hand, the court had made it clear that a minister who is indicted should immediately be dismissed in order not to compromise public trust. But the law overrides the court.
Any citizen can also file a case to remove the prime minister on the grounds that the public trust is compromised if he continues holding office.
This did happen earlier this year when a group of activists sought to prevent Netanyahu from forming a government while facing criminal charges. The petitioners’ lawyer argued that if Netanyahu was allowed to lead a government “then what we see today will only be the promo. When he’s prime minister this will be very dangerous.”
The Movement for Quality Government which was among the groups that filed the petition, argued that it “was unconscionable that a man like this will go in the morning to sit in the dock and in the evening will manage the security cabinet and send us and our children into battle.”
‘The Gravity of the Pending Charges’
After hearing the petitioners, the High Court in Jerusalem unanimously ruled that it cannot force Netanyahu out of office on the basis on indictment alone. We did not find any legal reason to prevent Netanyahu from forming a government,” said the court.
“The legal conclusion we reached does not diminish the gravity of the pending charges against Netanyahu for violations of moral integrity, or the difficulties derived from a prime minister serving when charged with criminal activity.”
However Netanyahu would be forced out office in case he is convicted. A conviction basically means someone is guilty of criminal offence. But still, it is worth noting even if he is convicted on some or all of the charges , the law will not require him to step down as prime minister until he has exhausted the appeal process which could take months or even one year.
If his appeal is rejected , then a formal process to remove him from office will begin. Within a month, parliament known as the Knesset , would convene to discuss removing him from office. If the parliamentarians fail to reach a conclusion within a month, then the prime minister would automatically be dismissed.
Will Netanyahu Be Jailed if Found Guilty?
Netanyahu could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of bribery and a maximum three year term for fraud and breach of trust. With Netanyahu already in his 70s, many are questioning whether it would be wise to lock him up for all those years.
To avoid this, he could enter a plea bargain. This would involve him admitting to reduced charges. As a result, he would be fined and receive a suspended jail sentence. Netanyahu has, however, rejected the idea of a plea bargain saying, “under no circumstances will I agree a plea deal. We aren’t here to make deals, rather get to the truth.”
Apart from a jail term and shame, a conviction would also come with other consequences. Netanyahu would struggle to obtain a US work permit, for example, which could have a big impact on his life, considering that he normally visits the US to conduct lectures which earn him a lot of money.