A day after the corruption trial against Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu began, president Reuven Rivlin handed him the mandate to try and form a new government.
Addressing the media on Tuesday, April 6, president Rivlin said that though the decision to hand the first opportunity to Netanyahu to try and form the new government, “is not an easy decision on a moral and ethical basis”, as it creates apprehensions about the future of Israel, “I am doing what is required of me as president of the State of Israel, according to the law and to the ruling of the court, and realizing the will of the sovereign – the Israeli people,” Times of Israel reported.
So far, though leading the race, Netanyahu has a confirmed support of just 52 members of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament. He needs the support of at least 61 members out of 120. Elections to the Knesset were held on March 23.
The corruption trial against Netanyahu has been cited by most of his opponents as the reason for not supporting him. Protests have also been going on for months against Netanyahu, calling him “crime minister” and demanding his resignation.
Quid pro quo deal
On the first two days of the corruption trial against Netanyahu, Ilan Yeshua, former CEO of the news portal Walla! testified against the prime minister, confirming a quid pro quo deal between his boss and Netanyahu. Yeshua said he had been compelled to provide positive coverage of Netanyahu and malign the image of his opponents.
Yeshua is the first witness to testify. Testimonies will be recorded on the first three days of every week. According to the Times of Israel, hundreds of more such witnesses are set to testify in the trial which could go on for years.
Yeshua claimed that one of Netanyahu’s opponents, Naftali Bennet, was the primary target of his smear campaign. Bennet, who was once an ally but later broke away from Netanyahu, now heads the ultra right-wing Yamina party which can be crucial for the prime minister’s attempts to form a new government. Yamina has 7 seats.
On the second day, newspapers reported Yeshua claiming in the courtroom that after his previous day’s testimony, he had received some “unpleasant messages”. The contents of those messages was not revealed.
Netanyahu is being tried in three cases of bribery, misuse of power and fraud and breach of trust. In case 4000, he is accused of using his powers as prime minister and communications minister between 2014 and 2017 to benefit Shaul Elovitch, owner of Walla!, in return for positive coverage. In case 1000, Netanyahu is accused of accepting “gifts” worth around USD 200,000 from an Israeli businessman Arnon Milchan and Australian businessman James Packer. In case 2000, he is accused of getting positive coverage in an Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth in return for legal proceedings against its rival Israel Hayom, a Hebrew language daily.
Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing in all three cases. He was present in the court briefly on Monday and was later allowed to leave the courtroom. He did not attend the proceedings on Tuesday.