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The Trial

Haaretz Editorial
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The Jerusalem District Court courtroom in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's trial will take place, May 21, 2020.
The Jerusalem District Court courtroom in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's trial will take place, May 21, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman
Haaretz Editorial

All the efforts that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invested in the past year and a half in trying to escape the law have crumbled. All his tactics, ruses and intrigues came to nothing. The trial of the prime minister charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust is set to begin on Sunday afternoon. The trial will be held in the Jerusalem District Court in front of a panel of three judges: Rivka Friedman-Feldman, who will head the panel, as well as Moshe Bar-Am and Oded Shaham.

Last week, Netanyahu even tried to ask the court to excuse him from having to appear at the opening of his trial. This, too, failed. On Sunday Netanyahu will have to show up in court just as any ordinary citizen facing charges for the reading of the indictment.

There’s not enough space to describe everything Netanyahu did in an attempt to escape the law. He dragged the country through a long, exhausting and expensive chase, through three rounds of elections. All of this in an attempt to achieve a majority that would either give him parliamentary immunity − or agree to distort the law through legislation tailor-made for his needs and circumstances, including a clause that would block the court from overturning these laws.

In parallel he declared a multi-pronged assault on all the law enforcement authorities and the legal system, on the institutions in general and on the individual officials. He did this while spewing conspiracy theories and blood libels in an attempt to scare and weaken all those involved in the proceedings against him. But no less important, he did it in order to give the public an alternative narrative to the offenses of which he is suspected, as if Israel’s citizens were a massive jury with the power to exonerate him.

Netanyahu didn’t hold back. He worked up the masses, he incited, he lied, he slandered, in a way that wouldn’t embarrass a criminal ringleader. His targets included Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich, State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit. None of this is expected to let up when the trial begins; it’s likely to intensify. It’s possible that Netanyahu’s list of targets may grow to include three new people this week. The prime minister led Israel into this nightmare when he insisted on running for reelection despite being under indictment.

In his swearing-in speech last week, Benny Gantz stated that his party Kahol Lavan chose unity with Netanyahu’s Likud “in order to back the rule of law in Israel.” Anyone who has ever believed in Gantz, and anyone who has feared the reckless behavior of the prime minister and his allies, will be looking at Gantz in the hope that contrary to his promise not to sit in a government with Netanyahu, Gantz and his partners intend to keep this commitment.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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