Photo Credit: Alex Kolomoisky/POOL
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, May 17, 2020.

One of the goals of Netanyahu’s defense team as his trial starts Sunday afternoon has nothing to do with the verdict, it has to do with the real outcome: will any media outlet be able to sneak a photo of the Prime Minister on the defendant’s bench? Because, win or lose, such an image will stick to Bibi for the rest of his life, including, for sure, in his man-of-the-year-cover of Time Magazine.

So on Sunday, before the PM sits down, all the photographers and cameramen will be rushed out of the courtroom.

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Of course, paparazzi being what they are, expect a war of wits between them and the authorities, because, hey, such an image could be worth a lot of shekels.

Attorney Ronel Fisher on the defendant’s bench in the Jerusalem District Court. Netanyahu will do his best to avoid being captured in a similar photograph. / Miriam Alster/Flash90

Because of the social distancing regulations, the court has ruled that only one defense attorney may enter the courtroom with Netanyahu. It will probably be attorney Micha Fettman, a relatively recent addition to the defense team, and an expert on white collar crime. The defense may ask for exchanges as the trial moves on.

The prosecution is expected to ask for the trial to be conducted several times a week, while defense attorneys have been asking for many months for assessments and preparations, claiming that some of the investigative material has reached them only recently and that they do not know if they should expect to receive additional material. In addition, Netanyahu’s defense attorneys are expected to request that his reply to the charges be given in writing, many weeks, and even months from now.

Three other defendants, well-known and influential figures in the Israeli media market, will be on trial alongside Netanyahu: Arnon (Noni) Moses, controlling shareholder and publisher of Yedioth Ahronoth Group, Shaul Elovitch, former controlling shareholder of the Bezeq group and the Walla website, and his wife Iris. The three cases on the agenda are Case 1000 that deals with the gifts Netanyahu received from businessman Arnon Milchan; and Cases 2000 and 4000 which deal with Netanyahu’s alleged attempts to exchange government favors for positive media coverage.

The hearing will take place in the courtroom of the President of the District Court, Aharon Farkash, in which the trial of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was also held. The head of the panel, Judge Rivka Friedman Feldman, also sat on Olmert’s panel.

The hearings will be under heavy security, as crowds of demonstrators for and against the prime minister will be yelling at each other outside the court building, with police separating between them. The anti-Bibi demonstrators plan to wait for him outside his official residence on Balfour Street and create an angry entourage all the way to the court.

Netanyahu was compelled by the court to show up for the first session, but in much of the remaining legal process, Netanyahu’s physical presence on the defendant’s bench will not be required, and Netanyahu is likely to argue that as prime minister, he will have objective difficulties in appearing in many of the hearings – despite his past reassurances that he could handle both.

The prosecution has submitted hundreds of witnesses, which means a very lengthy and tumultuous trial, with nightly reports of earth shattering accounts of the PM’s behavior, proven or refuted. There’s no way Netanyahu can emerge unscathed from this trial, nor will the nation emerge from this one unharmed. Which may suggest a quick plea where Netanyahu would admit some of the charges but not serve time. Of course, this would mean he would probably have to resign, and that’s not in his DNA.

So it’s going to be lengthy, painful, grotesque on occasion, with much unhappiness to go around.

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