The trial of Benjamin Netanyahu is proceeding with shocking slowness, and the public is paying the price. The cynical exploitation of the trial by the former prime minister’s supporters to impugn the judicial system and crush public trust in law enforcement obliges the judges to pay attention to the pace of the trial.
The indictment against Netanyahu and the other defendants was filed in the Jerusalem District Court in January 2020. In May 2020, the reading of the indictment took place. The first witness, Ilan Yeshua, took the stand about a year later, in April 2021. His testimony went on for months. So did that of other key witnesses, including Shlomo Filber, Nir Hefetz and, recently, Hadas Klein, the personal assistant of billionaire Arnon Milchan. More than 300 prosecution witnesses are named in the indictment. At the current pace, Netanyahu will reach the age of 80 before his trial ends.
The forecast for witness testimony for the coming year does not promise an acceleration of this pace. Klein’s important testimony was completed after the summer recess and before the Rosh Hashanah holiday, which begins Sunday evening. The pace of witness testimony is expected to remain slow until the end of October, when witnesses testifying in the lavish gifts affair will take the stand.
Toward the end of this group of witnesses, Milchan himself is expected to come to Israel, presumably in late 2022 or early 2023. After that, the prosecution plans to call witnesses in the Bezeq-Walla corruption case, including former Communications Minister Gilad Erdan. This cluster of witnesses will apparently testify until the summer. At this rate, only by next Rosh Hashanah will the prosecution call the witnesses in the case of suspected bribery involving former Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes.
Although there is a certain logic in putting together all the corruption charges against Netanyahu, it is now clear that the decision of former Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to do so has contributed to slowing down the process. Add to that the support by the High Court of Justice that no legal obstacle prevents Netanyahu from serving as prime minister despite his trial – the result is complete chaos.
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There are ways to speed up the judicial process without infringing on the defendants’ rights and on justice. The judges can set limit the duration of testimony in order to keep it focused. The police testimony of some witnesses can be used, instead of calling them into court to testify. To date, the judges have not urged the prosecution and the defense to agree on which witnesses’ testimony they are willing to forego, an accepted practice in any trial. And testimony should be heard four days a week instead of three. The slow pace of the trial harms the country. The key is in the hands of the judges. They are the ones who can speed things up.