Gantz: Netanyahu entitled to presumption of innocence, will get a fair trial

Opposition leader Lapid slams prime minister’s ‘incitement’ at opening of trial, says it shows why a ‘criminal defendant cannot continue to serve’ as premier

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his lawyer Micah Fetman (L) at the Jerusalem District Court for the start of his trial on corruption charges, May 24, 2020. (Amit Shabi/Pool/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his lawyer Micah Fetman (L) at the Jerusalem District Court for the start of his trial on corruption charges, May 24, 2020. (Amit Shabi/Pool/Flash90)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — who as he entered the dock Sunday as a defendant in three corruption cases assailed the justice system, alleging an “attempted coup” — is entitled to the presumption of innocence and is assured a fair trial.

With the start of his trial, Netanyahu became the first Israeli premier to be tried on criminal charges while in office. Though the two are now partnered in a unity coalition government, Gantz had campaigned for over a year — and three elections — for an end to Netanyahu’s tenure over the criminal charges he faces.

“Just like every citizen, the prime minister too has the presumption of innocence, and I am sure that the justice system will give him a fair trial,” Gantz tweeted.

“I again emphasize that my colleagues and I have full faith in the justice system and law enforcement,” he added. “At this time, perhaps more than ever, as a state and a society, we must seek unity and reconciliation, for the sake of the country and all of its citizens.”

The first conference of the new unity government, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and alternate prime minister Benny Gantz at the Knesset, May 17, 2020. (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL)

Opposition leader Yair Lapid, Gantz’s former partner in the Blue and White party, slammed Netanyahu over the remarks he made as he arrived at the Jerusalem District Court, saying the cases against him were an “attempted political coup.”

“Netanyahu’s unbridled and inciting attack at the opening of his trial is definitive proof for why a criminal defendant cannot continue to serve as prime minister,” Lapid tweeted.

Meretz leader MK Nitzan Horowitz, also in the opposition, went to the courthouse, where Netanyahu backers were demonstrating in support of the prime minister.

“I came to protest against the dangerous incitement by the defendant from Balfour,” Horowitz tweeted, referring to the prime minister’s official residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem.

“The defendant’s accomplices and collaborators are making threats and lashing out, including a group of sycophants who crawled here from the government, and we say to them: We will oppose you and the corruption, in every place, without fear,” Horowitz wrote. He was referring to the group of Likud ministers and lawmakers who stood alongside Netanyahu as he assailed the justice system before the trial opened.

He also called on Gantz and senior members of his Blue and White party, who were all aligned with Gantz’s initial election campaign to replace Netanyahu, to now speak out against “this unbridled incitement against the courthouse.”

The public, Horowitz wrote, had voted for those politicians in order that they campaign against corruption, yet “today they are silent like fish. They are serving under the defendant, giving him endorsement. It’s a disgrace.”

Netanyahu faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in all three 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)

Earlier, Netanyahu arrived at the courthouse flanked by ministers and lawmakers from his Likud party, delivering televised remarks before the start of the hearing, 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.”

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.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid at his office in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

During the hearing, 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.

After the hearing Netanyahu kept up his attacks on the justice and law enforcement systems, tweeting, “What is on trial today is the attempt to thwart the will of the people: To bring us down, the nationalist camp, by way of fabricated cases. With your help, and the help of God, I will continue to fight.”

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