Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was escorted to the Jerusalem District Court for the opening of his trial on Sunday by most — but not all — of the senior leadership of his governing Likud party.
As Netanyahu delivered a speech excoriating Israel’s law-enforcement agencies for “fabricating” the charges against him, minutes before he entered Courtroom 317 to hear those charges read out, he was surrounded by several leading ministers and other Likud MKs.
According to a Kan TV report Sunday night, the Prime Minister’s Office had “demanded” that Likud ministers be sure to turn out.
Seven of the Likud’s 13 ministers were at his side: Finance Minister Israel Katz, Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, Transportation Minister Miri Regev, Minister without Portfolio Tzachi Hanegbi, Education Minister Yoav Gallant, Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen, and Minister for Liaison between the Government and the Knesset David Amsalem. Among those also present, former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, who was surprisingly overlooked by Netanyahu for a ministerial slot, and former Blue and White MK Gadi Yevarkan, who switched to Likud shortly before the March elections.
Outside the court, speaking on behalf of Netanyahu, was one other minister, Tzipi Hotovely, minister for settlement affairs. In the Channel 12 TV studio was Likud coalition chair Miki Zohar. Yariv Levin, the Likud’s new Knesset speaker, issued a statement castigating the legal proceedings against the prime minister, and told Channel 12 news on Sunday evening that Netanyahu has his “complete backing” in his battle against the “fake cases,” but that “I’m not sure my physical presence was necessary” at the court.
The five Likud ministers who stayed away were Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, Higher Education and Water Resources Minister Ze’ev Elkin, Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel, and Gilad Erdan, the regional cooperation minister who is soon set to relinquish the post to become Israel’s ambassador to the UN.
Steinitz, who issued a statement of support for Netanyahu, may have stayed away because of a certain conflict of interest: his wife, Gila Kamfy-Steinitz is a judge, at Jerusalem District Court.