A slight majority of Israelis oppose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu being offered a plea deal in a series of graft cases, according to a poll released Wednesday as the premier’s pre-indictment hearing began.
Netanyahu faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in three criminal probes, as well as bribery in one of them. He has strenuously denied wrongdoing and says he he has no intention of seeking a plea bargain.
Over half of respondents (52 percent) to an Israel Democracy Institute survey said Netanyahu should not be offered a plea bargain allowing him to avoid trial in exchange for copping to the charges and leaving politics.
As for whether Netanyahu would even accept a plea deal if it were offered, 58% said they believed he would not.
The Israel Democracy Institute noted that a majority of right-wing and left-wing voters opposed a plea deal for Netanyahu, although for different reasons: While right-wingers believe he is innocent and thus oppose a plea deal that would include him admitting guilt, those on the left want the premier to be tried and ultimately punished if convicted.
Additionally, 56% of respondents said they would oppose President Reuven Rivlin pardoning Netanyahu if he leaves politics but doesn’t confess to wrongdoing before formal charges are filed.
Netanyahu has denied a television report last month that said he was looking into the possibility of receiving such a pardon.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu’s lawyers began the first day of hearings with prosecutors to argue his innocence and to dissuade Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit from indicting the prime minister.
As they arrived for the hearing, the attorneys reiterated Netanyahu would not seek a plea bargain.
This week’s hearings will focus on Case 4000, considered to be the most serious of the three cases faced by Netanyahu.
In that case, Netanyahu is accused of pushing regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister from 2015 to 2017 that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in the Bezeq telecom giant, in exchange for positive coverage from the company’s Walla news site. That case includes a proposed bribery charge for both Netanyahu and Elovitch.
Cases 1000 and 2000 will be discussed in two days of hearings next week.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu is alleged to have received tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of gifts from Arnon Milchan, an Israeli Hollywood producer, and James Packer, an Australian casino mogul.
In Case 2000, Netanyahu is accused of agreeing with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes to weaken a rival daily in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth. In that case, Mandelblit will seek to charge the premier with breach of trust, while Mozes will be charged with bribery. Mozes underwent his own pre-indictment hearing last month.
The hearings come as Netanyahu struggles to form a government after he and his right-wing religious allies failed to win a majority of Knesset seats in elections last month.
Since his right-wing bloc fell short of a majority in the September 17 vote, Netanyahu has called on the rival Blue and White alliance to join a government that includes his Likud party and three allied religious-right factions. Blue and White is demanding Likud ditch Netanyahu and its religious partners as a condition of joining a government.
According to the Israel Democracy Institute poll, more than half of Israelis prefer a unity government over a third round of elections, with the number jumping to 64% among the Jewish public.
The poll, however, did not define what a unity government would entail.
Blue and White campaigned on forming a “secular” unity government that would include it, Likud sans Netanyahu, Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party and Labor-Gesher.
The Israel Democracy Institute poll, which was conducted between September 22 to 24, had 757 respondents and a 3.7% margin of error.
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