JERUSALEM—Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial will begin in earnest in January with witnesses being heard three times a week, a court decided on July 19.
Lawyers for Netanyahu, the first serving prime minister in Israel to go on trial, had asked for a six-month postponement to prepare their strategy. They suggested it would be difficult to gauge the truthfulness of witnesses wearing anti-coronavirus masks, currently compulsory in Israel.
Netanyahu’s legal troubles have partly fueled mounting street protests against him, with demonstrators citing his alleged corruption and handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has taken a turn for the worse in Israel.
Israeli police used water cannons to disperse demonstrators outside Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem on July 18, and in Tel Aviv, protesters blocking traffic clashed with police.
Netanyahu was not required to appear at the July 19 court session.
The veteran leader’s trial formally opened in May in the Jerusalem District Court, where Netanyahu denied the charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust against him, and his attorneys were given two months to study the material against him.
At the July 19 hearing, Netanyahu’s lawyers asked for more time as they expected to file a series of pre-trial motions over witnesses and documents, and said masks would be problematic if sessions were held now.
“How can we carry out a cross-examination when I am in a mask, the witness is in a mask, and I don’t know if Your Honor is angry or happy,” Netanyahu attorney Yossi Segev asked Judge Rivkah Friedman Feldman, who heads the three-justice court.
She replied that the defense, prosecution, and court would just have to cope should masks still be compulsory in January.
Netanyahu, 70, was indicted in November in cases involving gifts from millionaire friends and for allegedly seeking regulatory favors for media tycoons in return for favorable coverage.
In its ruling, the court said that as of January, trial sessions would be held every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Bribery charges carry a sentence of up to 10 years in jail. Fraud and breach of trust are punishable by up to three years in prison.