How Israel's Early Elections Will Affect Netanyahu's Corruption Trial

The decision to call early elections is expected to ratchet up Netanyahu and his team's public battle, as the former prime minister hopes to form a new government

Chen Maanit
Chen Maanit
Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in court earlier this month.
Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in court earlier this month.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Chen Maanit
Chen Maanit

The trial of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is happening in two parallel worlds: At the Jerusalem District Court, the trial is continuing in accordance with judiciary procedures and the evidence. Outside the court, there is the battle over public opinion, which includes all manner of spin.

The decision to call an early election is expected to ratchet up the public battle Netanyahu and his people are waging. They are trying to create the impression that he is the victim of persecution by the law-enforcement system, and leverage that image into victory at the ballot box. The persecution theory has no real basis, but it plays on the emotions of a great many people.

One of the most prominent purveyors of this theory is Channel 13 analyst on ultra-Orthodox matters, Avishai Ben-Haim. He recently argued Netanyahu’s trial is worse than the Dreyfus trial in certain respects.

The key witness expected to testify in Netanyahu’s trial in the coming weeks is Hadas Klein, who was tycoon Arnon Milchan’s aide. She is the main prosecution witness in Case 1000, in which Netanyahu is charged with accepting perquisites from billionaires Milchan and James Packer worth about 700,000 shekels ($203,000) and advancing Milchan’s interests despite a serious conflict of interest. Klein is considered one of the most difficult witnesses for Netanyahu; her testimony about his conduct may prove embarrassing.

It is not yet clear whether Klein will complete her testimony before the court system’s summer recess begins on July 23. Netanyahu’s trial will re-start after the recess ends on September 5, when the election campaign should be at its height.

The election’s outcome will affect the trial. If Likud does very well at the ballot box and returns to power, Netanyahu’s people are expected to try once again to promote initiatives quashing the trial, as they had attempted during his previous stint as prime minister.

Let us recall that in January 2020 Netanyahu submitted to the Knesset speaker at the time, Yuli Edelstein, a request for immunity against facing criminal trial. Inter alia, his attorneys argued that the indictment had been filed in bad faith and that conducting a criminal trial against the prime minister would damage the functioning of the Knesset.

The attorneys asked “to let Netanyahu continue leading Israel to unprecedented achievements as per the voter’s will, such that his trial would be postponed for a stipulated period of time in accordance with the will of the people.” Netanyahu withdrew the request. Ultimately, it was not considered, but he is liable to try to return to it in one incarnation or another if elected prime minister once again.

If Netanyahu is elected, he will also be able to use his position as prime minister as a bargaining chip in negotiating a plea bargain. In contrast, if he suffers a downfall in the election, his interest in signing a plea bargain with the attorney general could grow. He may want to try to put an end to this saga from his perspective, with a minimal sentence that does not include prison time.

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