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'They did everything so I wouldn't stand here today as PM'

As his trial begins, Netanyahu rails against ‘attempted political coup’

Arriving at Jerusalem court, PM accuses police and prosecutors of inventing ‘baseless cases’ against him, says probes ‘were corrupted and fabricated from the start’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C), surrounded by Likud lawmakers, gives a televised statement before the start of his corruption trial at the Jerusalem District Court on May 24, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C), surrounded by Likud lawmakers, gives a televised statement before the start of his corruption trial at the Jerusalem District Court on May 24, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday appeared in court for the start of his corruption trial, and ripped into police and prosecutors as he became the first Israeli premier to stand trial on criminal charges while in office.

Flanked by ministers and lawmakers from his Likud party, Netanyahu delivered televised remarks before the start of the hearing at the Jerusalem District Court, declaring that all his right-wing supporters were on trial along with him.

“Elements in the police and State Attorney’s Office banded together with left-wing journalists… to fabricate baseless cases against me,” he charged. “The goal is to oust a strong right-wing prime minister and to banish the right-wing camp from leadership of the country for many years.”

“I’m not a poodle… and therefore they need to remove me by any means,” he said.

Netanyahu blasted the police who led the probes into him, saying officers made up claims that he had sent private sleuths to track investigators and that he had prompted a female officer to complain of sexual harassment against the head of the anti-corruption unit.

“These investigations were corrupted and fabricated from the start,” he said.

The premier claimed “the band of anyone-but-Bibi” sought to interfere in two of the three elections over the past year in a bid to hurt Likud at the polls. He pointed to the police recommendation that he be charged ahead of the April 2019 elections and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s decision to indict him before the latest elections in March.

“They did everything so I wouldn’t stand here today as prime minister,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, surrounded by Likud lawmakers, gives a televised statement before the start of his corruption trial at the Jerusalem District Court on May 24, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu touted the support Likud received in the last elections, calling it a “vote of confidence” in him and a “vote of no confidence” in those who investigated and pressed charges against him.

“I stand here today as your prime minister with my back straight and my head held high,” he said.

He again urged for the proceedings against him to be broadcast live — a request already rejected by Jerusalem District Court judges — and called for the recordings of Mandelblit from the so-called Harpaz affair, which the attorney general was never charged in, to be released.

Netanyahu also claimed witnesses were intimidated into testifying against him.

“This is the rule of law? This is democracy?” he said, asserting there was no precedent for charging a politician for allegedly trading favors for positive news coverage.

“They invented a special clause for me that doesn’t exist in any law book in Israel or the world. How absurd,” Netanyahu said.

He suggested Mandelblit had “something personal to hide” and said that if the public would “know the whole truth,” the cases against him would fall apart.

“The people recognize…: This is an attempted political coup against the will of the people,” he said.

Netanyahu vowed to press on and fight the charges, saying he would continue to lead Israel.

Following the televised remarks, Netanyahu and the Likud lawmakers posed for a photo in the courtroom, many of them wearing masks in accordance with Health Ministry guidelines to prevent spreading the coronavirus.

As he arrived at court, Netanyahu supporters demonstrated outside the building against the judicial system, while opponents of the premier rallied outside his official Jerusalem residence to call on him to resign over the charges against him.

In addition to Netanyahu, the other defendants in the three cases against him were also at Sunday’s opening hearing: Arnon Mozes, publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper; Shaul Elovitch, controlling shareholder of the Bezeq telecommunications company; and Elovitch’s wife, Iris Elovitch.

Netanyahu faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in all the cases, as well as bribery in one of them.

Supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demonstrate outside the Jerusalem District Court before the start of his trial on graft charges, May 24, 2020. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Among the Likud lawmakers who accompanied Netanyahu were ministers Israel Katz, Amir Ohana, Miri Regev, David Amsalem and Tzachi Hanegbi, along with MKs Nir Bakat, Mai Golan and others.

Earlier, opposition leader Yair Lapid tore into the Likud lawmakers who had announced they planned to join Netanyahu, calling it a “national disgrace” and noting that Ohana, as public security minister, oversees law enforcement agencies.

“This is the true coup attempt,” Lapid, who heads the Yesh Atid party, wrote on Twitter. He was referring to accusations by Netanyahu and his backers that his indictment last year amounted to an “attempted coup.”

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