Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a rare court appearance at his own corruption trial on Tuesday, even though the scheduled testimony of a key prosecution witness was postponed.
Netanyahu has pleaded not guilty to charges of bribery, breach of trust and fraud in a series of cases that centre around regulatory favours he is alleged to awarded to media tycoons in return for positive press coverage and illicit receipt of gifts, including cigars and champagne.
Around 50 people showed up at the Jerusalem District Court to support Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader and its first to be criminally charged while in office.
Far fewer security personnel were present at the courthouse than in April, when Netanyahu, then still heading a caretaker government, made his last appearance.
The court was set to hear testimony from Nir Hefetz, a former Netanyahu media adviser, one of a handful of aides in the former prime minister’s inner circle who turned state’s witness.
But the three-judge panel granted the defence attorneys’ request to postpone the hearing after the prosecution introduced new evidence in the case.
The corruption allegations cast a huge shadow over Netanyahu, 72, as he battled to stay in power through four national elections the country held in two years. He finally lost out to former right-wing ally Naftali Bennett who now heads a diverse coalition government of rightist, left-wing and Muslim-Arab parties.
The trial has been a polarising issue for Israelis. Netanyahu’s loyal supporter base see it as a left-wing witch-hunt aimed at removing a popular right-wing leader from office, while Netanyahu’s critics see it as the triumph of law over corruption and a testament to Israel’s strength as a democracy.
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