Pro and anti-Netanyahu protesters square off in Jerusalem as court hears witnesses in PM’s corruption case for 1st time

First witnesses have testified in a corruption trial of sitting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, as the PM’s supporters and opponents rallied outside the courthouse.

As the PM appeared before the Jerusalem District Court on Monday, hundreds of his supporters and opponents gathered outside the courthouse, chanting through loudspeakers and singing. The camps were kept separate, and no scuffles were reported.

A Netanyahu supporter told TV channel i24 News that he came to support the country’s “great leader.” A counter-protester, meanwhile, accused the PM of authoritarianism, expressing hope that “justice will be served” in court.

Multiple anti-Netanyahu protests were held across the country in recent months, despite tough lockdowns. Some rallies led to clashes with police and arrests.

As the crowds rallied outside, judges heard witness testimonies for the first time. In her opening argument, lead prosecutor Liat Ben-Ari accused Netanyahu of abusing the “immense” power vested in his office to advance “personal desires,” including when he sought re-election.

Opponents of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a rally in Jerusalem, April 5, 2021. © Ronen Zvulun / Reuters

Ben-Ari said Netanyahu “traded” favors with the owners of powerful media companies in exchange for helping him “win elections and affect his public standing.”

Ilan Yeshua, former editor of the Walla! news website and a key witness in one of the three cases against the PM, told the court he was instructed by superiors to publish “positive articles and stories” about Netanyahu and his family. Yeshua added that he was told to put out negative stories about Netanyahu’s political rivals, such as Naftali Bennett, the leader of the right-wing Yamina party.

Yeshua testified that there were fights about such demands, but said “90%” of the demands from his bosses were accepted in the end.

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The prosecution believes Netanyahu had struck a favorable coverage deal with Shaul Elovitch, the former owner of Walla! – in exchange for regulatory favor for Bezeq, a telecoms company Elovitch also owned. Elovitch and his wife Iris are now defendants in the case.

The Times of Israel reported that Netanyahu, who denies any wrongdoing, had left the courtroom shortly after the prosecution’s introductory statement. The PM is allowed to attend just the opening part of the court session.

On Monday, Netanyahu tweeted out a link to an article in the Mida online magazine that argued that Walla! never had any bias in his favor. 

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Source:RT World News

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