Defense attorneys’ request that Netanyahu be excused from attending opening hearing sparks public battle with state prosecutors.
By Lauren Marcus, World Israel News
Days before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s criminal trial is set to begin this Sunday, his defense attorneys and state prosecutors are publicly battling about his presence in the courtroom.
Netanyahu has been charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, and maintains his innocence of all charges.
On Tuesday night, Netanyahu’s attorneys filed a request with the Jerusalem District Court, asking that he be excused from attending the opening hearing of his trial. They argued that it was simply a technical hearing and his presence would cause unnecessary commotion because he travels with a large security convoy.
His attorneys wrote that the hearing could proceed normally without Netanyahu being physically present in the courtroom.
The State Prosecutor’s Office rejected the request, saying it was important that Netanyahu be in court for the beginning of his trial for “the appearance of justice and public trust in fairness, and the equality of the criminal justice system vis-à-vis all defendants.”
The prosecutors also added that three other prominent defendants would be required to attend on Sunday, and there was no clear reason why Netanyahu should be granted an exemption.
Netanyahu’s attorneys Amit Hadad and Micha Patman slammed the prosecution’s decision, calling the response “manifestly unfounded” and emphasizing that the Prime Minister’s appearance in court would require a number of security guards that would exceed the maximum number of people in a space, according to Ministry of Health guidelines.
They charged that the decision was made for political reasons rather than in the interest of justice.
“The decision did not come from proper professional motives, but rather to present an image of Prime Minister Netanyahu sitting on the defendants’ bench, as a continuation of the ‘anyone-but-Bibi’ campaign,” Hadad and Patman wrote to the court.
“In case anyone doesn’t realize, the election is already over,” Hadad and Patman wrote.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu is vigorously running the unity government that was established to address the urgent issues of the coronavirus crisis, the economy and the return of people to the employment cycle. Netanyahu will continue running the government on Sunday, before and after the court hearing.”
Responding to the allegations, the State Prosecutor’s Office said in a public statement, “The defense counsel’s statement is unacceptable, beyond false and incriminating. The request that the Prime Minister not report to court like the other defendants relied on security-related arguments and costs.”
“They presented no argument about the image of Mr. Netanyahu on the defendants’ bench. We regret that his attorneys have wildly attacked their colleagues and prosecutors and are saddened by the false allegation that attributes the State Prosecutor’s decision to improper motives.”
In the past, several high-profile political figures have been permitted to skip the opening hearing of their trials. While Sunday’s court session is technically an arraignment hearing, in Israel such hearings are largely used by attorneys to hash out details like witness schedules and discovery requests.
Netanyahu’s trial was originally scheduled to begin in March but was postponed due to the coronavirus crisis.