Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu requested on Sunday that the Jerusalem District Court postpone the opening of his trial, set for March 17.
His lawyer, Amit Hadad, explained in a short video that the request was merely for a technical delay to receive additional evidentiary materials that they had sought from the prosecution months ago.
Generally, the first hearing of a trial is used specifically for resolving such issues, such that it would be unexpected for the court to grant a delay to resolve the issues outside of court.
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit has previously told Netanyahu’s lawyers they have already received either all or nearly all of the evidence that is due to them, and any remaining evidentiary disputes should be resolved at the March 17 hearing.
The three-judge panel for the public corruption trial consists of Rivkah Friedman-Feldman, Moshe Bar-Am and Oded Shaham.
A decision on the opening date for the trial and for the panel had been stalled since the indictment against Netanyahu was filed on January 28.
Although there was initially greater potential for the trial to open before the March 2 election, it eventually became clear that the court wanted the trial opening postponed until after Election Day.
Netanyahu became the first sitting prime minister in Israel’s history to be indicted when Mandelblit on January 28 filed an indictment with the Jerusalem District Court against him for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, just hours after Netanyahu withdrew his immunity request.
Mandelblit announced his final indictment on November 21 but could not file it with the courts until the immunity request process was concluded.
The delay of several months in filing the indictment came from Netanyahu’s unusual request for immunity (which most ministers have not requested) and that the Knesset has been out of session for an extended period.
Hours after announcing the indictment on November 21, Mandelblit gave a speech in which he said it was personally sad for him to indict Netanyahu, who he greatly admired in terms of talents, but he was obligated by the law to do so.
Mandelblit ultimately indicted Netanyahu for bribery in Case 4000, the Bezeq-Walla! Affair; for breach of public trust in Case 1000, the Illegal Gifts Affair; and for breach of public trust in Case 2000, the Yediot Aharonot-Israel Hayom Affair.
In Case 4000, Netanyahu is accused of involvement in a media bribery scheme in which Walla! owner Shaul Elovitch allegedly gave him positive coverage in exchange for Netanyahu making government policies that were worth about NIS 1.8 billion to Elovitch’s Bezeq company.
This is the hardest case for Netanyahu, since he faces accusations by two close former aides turned state’s witnesses, Shlomo Filber and Nir Hefetz.
In Case 1000, Netanyahu is accused of receiving hundreds of thousands of shekels in gifts from tycoons, mostly from Arnon Milchin, in exchange for a variety of help with business and personal-legal initiatives. The charge itself is for acting in situations in which the prime minister had a conflict of interest, since no actual quid pro quo can be proven.
In Case 2000, Netanyahu was accused of working with Yediot Aharonot and Israel Hayom to reduce the latter’s competition with Yediot in exchange for positive coverage for Netanyahu in Yediot. The deal never went through, but the law has crimes of attempted bribery and breach of trust that can apply even if a deal is not completed.
Mandelblit was never a fan of Case 2000 but decided he needed to charge Netanyahu with something once they indicted Yediot owner Arnon Nuni Mozes with bribery.