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Campaign to cover Netanyahu’s legal costs raises over NIS 2 million

Activist lawyer warns money crowdfunded by right-wing journalist may be illegal, could constitute an ethical violation if ex-premier takes it

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing on a lawsuit against former premier Ehud Olmert, at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court on January 10, 2022 (Avshalom Sassoni/POOL)
Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu arrives for a court hearing on a lawsuit against former premier Ehud Olmert, at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court on January 10, 2022 (Avshalom Sassoni/POOL)

A campaign to cover the legal costs of opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu raised over NIS 2 million ($643,000) within its first hours on Sunday.

Netanyahu is on trial in three separate graft cases: on charges of fraud and breach of trust in Case 1000 and in Case 2000, and charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Case 4000. He denies all allegations against him, and says the charges were fabricated by a biased police force and state prosecution service, overseen by a weak attorney general, in league with political opponents and the leftist media.

The fundraiser was opened by pro-Netanyahu pundit Yinon Magal, despite recent reports indicating Netanyahu is negotiating a plea deal with prosecutors.

According to the campaign’s organizers, the money will go toward Netanyahu’s criminal trial because “this trial is not about Netanyahu alone and he does not sit there alone.”

The organizers also said that Netanyahu’s trial was “the result of persecution and an attempt to obtain in any way possible and at any cost the conviction of the [right-wing] camp’s leader with the intention of removing him from the state leadership.”

The fundraiser does not mention the reportedly expected plea deal, which many right-wing activists say they are against.

According to multiple reports in recent days, Netanyahu has been resisting a deal so far primarily due to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s demand that he agree that his actions carried “moral turpitude” — legally barring him from public service for seven years.

In the first three hours, the fundraiser broke NIS 1 million. Seven hours later, it surpassed NIS 2 million.

In total, more than 12,000 people — including several right-wing lawmakers and pundits — donated.

The organization collecting the money, according to the fundraising site, is “Musari,” a Jewish human rights organization. It was not clear if Netanyahu was involved in the fundraiser, and there was no immediate comment from the opposition leader on the matter.

Anti-corruption activist and attorney Shachar Ben Meir sent a letter to Musari, saying the fundraising exceed the organization’s stated goals, and may lead it to having its license revoked.

According to Ben Meir, the law stipulates that it is illegal to fundraise in order to pay off a fine issued by a court, if the money is to be used in the event that Netanyahu is fined in his trial.

Ben Meir also warned that Netanyahu would need to have been given the approval of the Knesset Ethics Committee in advance, in order to receive the money.

He said fundraising without prior approval from the committee “violates provisions of the Knesset ethics procedures,” and that the Supreme Court had once ruled it can be considered a breach of trust.

The Ethics Committee has yet to convene since being established in November, amid a boycott by Likud lawmakers.

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