Day Before Netanyahu Court Hearing, Knesset Speaker Calls to Suspend Trial Until After Election

Ahead of a scheduled hearing in which Netanyahu must appear, Yariv Levin claims holding hearings before vote is 'blatant election interference'

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File photo: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin.
File photo: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin.

Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin called for the next phase of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's corruption trial to be postponed in order to prevent "blatant election interference" in an interview published Sunday, a day before a scheduled court hearing in his cases.

Netanyahu, charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three cases, is scheduled to appear in court on Monday to provide a response to the charges. The hearing was set to be held a month earlier before being postponed.

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Levin, a member of Netanyahu's Likud party, told the Yisrael Hayom newspaper that in a democratic country, the legal system is careful to stay away from anything that might seem as election interference, "but this basic rule has already been crudely trampled on by our legal system."

The Knesset speaker and Netanyahu ally suggested that an example for this was Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit informing the public that had decided to indict the prime minister "mere weeks" before the election in April of 2019, "without the prime minister being able to respond to these suspicions" before voters went to the polls.

The Likud lawmaker also complained that the indictment was formally issued a month before the election in March of last year, and on the same day on which Netanyahu and former President Donald Trump unveiled the Trump administration's Mideast plan. He warned of "another blatant and unprecedented intervention by the judiciary in the election" and said beginning the courts must reject beginning evidence phase of the trial before the election.

"The legal process must not keep getting exploited to provide one-sided testimony in order to damage Netanyahu's and Likud's chances of winning the election," Levin said. "A situation in which prosecution witnesses are heard before the election, while the defense witnesses – including the prime minister – are heard after the election is an unfair situation in which there is blatant and severe interference in the election process."

The election scheduled for March 23 will be the country's fourth in two years.

In November, the Jerusalem District Court agreed to delay the evidence phase from January until February after agreeing to extend the deadline for Netanyahu's defense attorneys to file a formal response to the indictment against him. The lawyers were originally due to file a response to the indictment by October 18, but the deadline was deferred until November 29, before being extended again until January 13.

Before that, the beginning of the trial was postponed from March until May because of the pandemic and then-Justice Minister Amir Ohana's declaration of a state of emergency, which shut down the courts. Two weeks before that, Ohana expanded his authority to allow him to freeze the courts' activities over the pandemic.