Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Jerusalem at two opposing protests ahead of the opening of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s criminal trial Sunday afternoon.
Outside the Jerusalem District Court, where the opening hearing began at 3 p.m., pro-Netanyahu demonstrators protested against the judicial system that brought him to the defendant’s bench. Organizers of the rally said that 50 buses brought supporters to Jerusalem.
“Dreyfus Trial: Mandelblit Style,” read one placard, in reference to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit who filed the indictments against Netanyahu and comparing the case to the anti-Semitic show trial that rocked France at the turn of the 20th century.
“Resign, Mandelblit,” read others, while some wore white shirts with the word “Mandelgate,” in reference to his role in the so-called Harpaz affair, a 2010 scandal in which he was investigated over but never tried for. There has been growing criticism by Likud of Mandelblit, with one minister last week calling him an “alleged criminal.”
Outside the prime minister’s house on Balfour Street, anti-Netanyahu protesters called for him to resign in light of the criminal allegations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust being presented in court.
The so-called Black Flag protesters decried attacks on the justice system by Netanyahu and his supporters.
“The endless attacks on the judicial system are the reason a black flag is being waved across the country today,” one activist shouted. “A criminal defendant is not our prime minister.”
Police said they closed several streets around both the court and the prime minister’s house and were making every effort “to allow freedom of expression for all sides.”
Security was tight around the court, with a heavy police presence and snipers deployed on surrounding rooftops.
Besides Netanyahu, who will become the first Israeli prime minister to go on trial while in office, the other defendants in the three cases he faces charges in will also be at Sunday’s opening hearing, including Arnon Mozes, publisher of the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, Shaul Elovitch, controlling shareholder of the Bezeq telecommunications company, and Elovitch’s wife Iris Elovitch.
Netanyahu, who denies wrongdoing, faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in all the cases, as well as bribery in one of them.
In the bribery case, Netanyahu is accused of pushing regulatory favors for Elovitch’s benefit in exchange for positive media coverage. He is also accused of attempting to reach a quid pro quo with Mozes for positive media coverage and of taking expensive gifts from wealthy benefactors in the two other cases, which are considered less serious.
Several Likud lawmakers arrived outside the courthouse to accompany Netanyahu at the start of his graft trial, as the premier’s allies doubled down on their accusations that the charges against him were politically motivated.
Transportation Minister Miri Regev, Knesset Liaison Minister David Amsalem and Public Security Minister Amir Ohana joined the supporters of the prime minister outside the Jerusalem District Court.
“Soon Prime Minister Netanyahu will arrive. I want you to tell him: ‘You will never walk alone,’” Regev told the protesters.
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.”