First day of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's trial ends

Prime Minister blasts trial as 'coup attempt', while defense attorneys press court for half year-postponement to review evidence.

David Rosenberg ,

Netanyahu flanked by his lawyers at the first day of his trial
Netanyahu flanked by his lawyers at the first day of his trial

The first day of the much-anticipated trial of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu ended Sunday afternoon, just an hour after it started at 3:00 p.m.

Prime Minister Netanyahu made a brief appearance at the hearing, held at the Jerusalem District Court, only speaking to confirm his identity.

Netanyahu, who stands accused of bribery in the “Case 4000” probe and of fraud and breach of trust in the “Case 1000” and “Case 2000” investigations, maintained his innocence Sunday, denouncing the investigations and resulting trial as a legal witch-hunt aimed at deposing his, calling the process an attempted “coup”.

"I'm here with a straight back and my head held high," Netanyahu said at a press conference shortly before the opening of his trial, rejecting charges against him as “ludicrous”.

"When you're trying to take down a strong prime minister from the Right, everything is possible," he added.

"I ask for everything to be broadcast live and uncensored so that the public will know," he said.

"The police department and prosecutor's office have joined forces with left-wing newspapers racking up imaginary charges against me. Their goal is the overthrow of a strong prime minister," he said. "Investigations were mishandled from the outset."

"They'd like to see an obedient poodle from the right and I'm not one. I'm not willing to be coddled by the media or uproot settlements, so they're doing everything in their power to get me. I want to reiterate what's going on here: this is a trial against the Right by a bunch of 'Anyone but Bibi' folks. They're trying to frame me."

The three-judge panel was led by Judge Rivka Friedman-Feldman, who was joined by justices Moshe-Bar-Am and Oded Shacham.

No date for the next hearing in the trial was set by the end of Sunday’s proceedings. Judge Friedman-Feldman told the parties she would notify them when a date has been determined for the next hearing.

Lawyers for Netanyahu and other defendants in the trial requested continuances of up to half a year in order to review all the evidence presented by investigators – a request Judge Friedman-Feldman appeared to reject.

Netanyahu has been charged with bribery in the Case 4000 investigation, relating to claims he sped up regulatory reforms to benefit Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch in exchange for favorable coverage from the Walla media outlet, also owned by Elovitch.

In addition, the prime minister has been indicted on charges of fraud and breach of trust – though not bribery – in the Case 1000 investigation, which revolves around some 700,000 shekels-worth of gifts, including cigars, champagne, and jewelry, allegedly given to the prime minister and his family by wealthy businessmen. Netanyahu also faces breach of trust charges in Case 2000, in which he allegedly worked to undermine the Israel Hayom newspaper for the benefit of its rival, Yediot Aharonot.

The trial began Sunday just hours after the new national unity government, led by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz convened for the first time, following its inauguration last week.

A total of 333 witnesses have been registered for the trial, which is expected to last more than three years – not including the appeals process, should Netanyahu not be cleared of all the charges.

Netanyahu is the first sitting Israeli prime minister to face trial. His predecessor, Ehud Olmert stepped down in 2009, months before being indicted on corruption charges.

Netanyahu is also Israel’s longest serving prime minister, holding office for a total of 14 years and 71 days, including 11 years and 53 days since returning to power in 2009.