Feb 10, 2021 - World

Netanyahu tries to delay corruption hearings until after Israel's election

Netanyahu talks to his lawyer ahead of Monday's hearing. Photo: Euven Castro/POOL/AFP via Getty

Netanyahu and his allies are publicly pressuring the judges in his corruption trial to postpone the presentation of evidence and witnesses until after Israel's elections on March 23.

What he's saying: “Everybody knows the cases against me are rigged," Netanyahu claimed on Monday. "This is why I don’t think the hearing of witnesses in my trial should begin before the elections because even if it is not the intention, it would look like a flagrant interference in the elections."

Between the lines: The presentation of evidence against Netanyahu in the lead-up to the trial would be a gift to his opponents, and put him in a difficult position.

  • It's in Netanyahu's legal interest to sit in the courtroom and look witnesses in the eyes as they testify against him, but it's in his political interest to stay out of court in order to show that he's focusing on affairs of state.
  • Netanyahu’s political opponents contend that he brought down the government and forced the election because of his legal situation — proof he can’t differentiate between the national interest and his legal troubles.
  • Netanyahu hopes that if he wins the elections, the right-wing bloc will vote to give him immunity from the charges.

Driving the news: In the court session on Monday in which Netanyahu pleaded not guilty, his lawyers asked that the testimony phase be postponed for another three to four months. They cited procedural reasons and didn’t mention the elections.

  • But several hours after Netanyahu left the courtroom, he denounced the charges against him and argued for a postponement until after the elections. In a scene that looked like it was taken from the Trump White House during impeachment, he did so while standing next to the visiting Greek prime minister.
  • After his brief court appearance, Netanyahu's press team did its best to signal business as usual, issuing statements and releasing photos of the prime minister in meetings and briefings on COVID-19.
  • Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s campaign was instructing all government ministers and MPs from his Likud party to publicly call for a postponement.

What’s next: The judges are expected to rule in the coming days on the dates of the hearings, which are expected to take place three days a week and last several hours.

  • The judges noted on Monday that the trial had already been postponed several times due to COVID-19 restrictions. Nevertheless, another postponement until after the elections is likely.
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