By Seth Gellman
On February 8, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pleaded not guilty in his trial on bribery, fraud, and breach of trust charges.
The police investigations that got him here began in 2016. They formally recommended that he be prosecuted in February 2018. Netanyahu was indicted in November 2019 and the trial began in May 2020. It has since been delayed due to the coronavirus.
The three cases that Netanyahu is being charged under are known as Case 1000, Case 2000, and Case 4000. Netanyahu has already been cleared for Case 3000, which involved the government’s involvement with acquisition of German submarines.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu is accused of receiving nearly $300,000 in gifts from 2007 to 2016 from two businessmen. These two businessmen are Hollywood Producer Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer. According to prosecutors, Netanyahu acted favorably on their behalf. They argue that he pressured the finance ministry into doubling the duration of a tax exemption for expatriate Israelites like Milchan after they return from abroad. Prosecutors also say that Netanyahu pressured the U.S. government to renew Milchan’s American visa, as well as assisting in a merger deal for a television channel owned by Milchan.
In Case 2000, Netanyahu allegedly entered a quid pro quo with Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot, owned by Arnon Mozes. The charges describe a deal that Netanyahu would receive favorable coverage in exchange for enacting legislation that would curb the influence of Israel Hayom, owned by billionaire Sheldon Adelson.
In Case 4000, Netanyahu is alleged to have received favors from telecom mogul Shaun Elovitch in exchange for not obstructing Elovitch’s business interests. Netanyahu reportedly was allowed to alter his website, Walla. In return, prosecutors say, Elovitch was allowed to go through with a merger between the telecom company he previously owned, Bezeq, and his television provider Yes.
Twenty minutes after pleading not guilty, Netanyahu walked out of the trial, thanking the judges. The trial proceeded with his lawyers. Netanyahu has previously called the charges a “coup” and denied everything. He is the first sitting Israeli Prime Minister to stand trial.
As Israel has been engaged in political deadlock, with both major parties looking for a high majority, Netanyahu’s trial may be what breaks the divide. The longest serving Prime Minister in Israeli history has a lot on his hands, and it will be interesting to see what the future holds for him.