By Erin Viner
It is not mandatory for the 72-year-old politician to come to court, and he has made few appearances.
Netanyahu, who served as Israel’s premier for 12 years until June, has pleaded not guilty to charges. As the first leader in the nation’s history to be criminally prosecuted while still in office, Netanyahu has been indicted on charges of bribery, breach of trust and fraud in cases that involving alleged regulatory favors he granted media tycoons in return for positive press coverage and the acceptance of expensive gifts.
The leader of the Likud political faction appeared to smile under his black face mask as he entered the Jerusalem District courtroom to hear the opening of testimony from his former spokesman and close advisor Nir Hefetz.
Hefetz, who is the third former staffer to turn state’s witness, is a former journalist who first served as a government spokesman in 2009 before becoming the Netanyahu family’s advisor and spokesman in 2014. After being arrested for involvement in one of the cases against his boss in 2018, Hefetz signed a deal with prosecutors and turned over recordings of conversations with Netanyahu and his family members.
“Netanyahu spent at least as much as his time on media as he spends on security matters – including on matters an outsider would consider nonsense,” Hefetz told the court.
Netanyahu, who denies any wrongdoing, made no comment as he exited the courthouse, where reporters and activists both in support and opposition to him were waiting outside.
The trial of the longest-serving leader in the nation’s history has been a polarizing issue for the public. Loyal supporters of the popular right-wing leader back his objection that his prosecution is a “witch-hunt” mounted by his leftist enemies, while his staunch critics laud the proceedings as a triumph of law over grave government corruption that had plunged Israel into years of political turmoil.
After 4 inconclusive elections in 2 years, Netanyahu was unseated last June by his former right-wing ally Naftali Bennett, who became Israel’s 13th Prime Minister by successfully forming a diverse coalition government of rightist, centrist, left-wing and Muslim Arab parties.
Hefetz may remain on the stand for several weeks. The trial, which officially opened in 2020, is expected to take years.
Following is a brief summary of the cases against Netanyahu:
Netanyahu has been charged with fraud and breach of trust over allegations that he and his wife Sara illegally accepted nearly ₪700,000 shekels ($210,000) worth of gifts from Israeli Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Milchan’s friend Australian billionaire businessman James Packer in exchange for favors. The gifts included jewelry, champagne and cigars. Neither Milchan nor Packer have been charged.
Netanyahu allegedly negotiated a deal with Arnon Mozes, owner of Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, for improved media coverage in return for the passage of legislation to slow the growth of a rival agency. Netanyahu has been charged with fraud and breach of trust. Mozes, who also denies wrongdoing, has been charged with offering a bribe.
Prosecutors charge that Netanyahu granted regulatory favors worth around ₪1.8 billion shekels (about $500 million) to Bezeq Telecom Israel in exchange for better coverage of himself and his wife on the Walla! news website controlled by the company’s former chairman and his wife, Shaul and Iris Elovitch. In this case, Netanyahu has been indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. The telecommunications power-couple have been charged with bribery and obstruction of justice, which they deny.