Netanyahu’s graft trial resumes amid Israeli virus anger


JERUSALEM (AP) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial resumed on Sunday, as the long-serving leader faces mounting discontent over his handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Netanyahu is charged with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in a series of scandals in which he is alleged to have received lavish gifts from billionaire friends and exchanged regulatory favors with media moguls for more agreeable coverage of himself and his family.

Netanyahu denies wrongdoing, painting the accusations as a media-orchestrated witch-hunt pursued by a biased law enforcement system.

The trial opened in May. Just before appearing in front of the judges, Netanyahu took to a podium inside the courthouse and flanked by his party members bashed the country’s legal institutions in an angry tirade.

Netanyahu was not expected to appear at Sunday’s hearing, which is taking place at a Jerusalem court and is mostly a procedural deliberation.

The trial resumes as Netanyahu faces widespread anger over his government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.

While the country appeared to have tamped down a first wave of infections, what’s emerged as a hasty and erratic reopening sent infections soaring. Yet even amid the rise in new cases Netanyahu and his emergency government – formed with the goal of dealing with the crisis – appeared to neglect the numbers and moved forward with other policy priorities and its reopening plans.

It has since paused them and even reimposed restrictions, including a weekend only lockdown set to begin later this week.

Netanyahu’s government has been criticized for a baffling, halting response to the new wave, which has seen daily cases rise to nearly 2,000. It has been slammed for its handling of the economic fallout of the crisis.

His trial thus comes at inopportune timing. Netanyahu had hoped to ride on the goodwill he gained from overcoming the first wave of infections going into his corruption trial but the increasingly souring mood has affected his approval rating and may deny him the public backing he had hoped for. The anger has sparked protests over the past few weeks that have culminated in violent clashes with police.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wears a face mask to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus as he opens the weekly cabinet meeting, at the foreign ministry, in Jerusalem, Sunday, July 5, 2020. (Photo by Gali Tibbon/Pool via AP)