Netanyahu accused of exploiting coronavirus to delay corruption trial
Israeli PM rushed through emergency measures which led to postponement
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been accused of exploiting the coronavirus to postpone his upcoming corruption trial.
The hearing is being delayed by more than two months because of new restrictions introduced to contain the coronavirus.
Many have pointed out that the restrictions - including bans on gatherings of more than 10 people in public places - had been announced by Netanyahu himself.
Netanyahu, who lost in the September 2019 Israeli election, has also called for a national emergency government to deal with the impact of the epidemic.
The controversial Israeli leader was facing charges of receiving expensive gifts from wealthy friends and offering to exchange favours with powerful media moguls. He denies any wrongdoing and insists he is the victim of a media-orchestrated witch hunt.
However, he has been accused of exploiting the outbreak for “personal political needs”, by opposition MP Moshe Ya’alon.
“Whoever criticized us for warning we would turn into Erdogan’s Turkey should digest and internalize the cynical exploitation of the coronavirus, for personal political needs, by a defendant before his trial,” Ya’alon wrote on Twitter.
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Netanyahu has said that a government of national unity should be formed, including all of the parties in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. As CNN highlights, the call to unite does not extend to “the Arab parties”.
“In light of the world and national crisis, we have to unite our strength and form a strong and stable government that can pass a budget and take tough decisions,” Netanyahu said.
Supporters of the prime minister are massing around him, CNN reports, as they “see him as uniquely qualified to lead the country in this time of need”.
“To them, the coronavirus is one more challenge Netanyahu is sure to overcome,” the broadcaster adds.
This is echoed by Middle East Eye, which reports that “Benjamin Netanyahu will go down in history as the one human being saved by coronavirus”.
“The virus that attacks the respiratory system serves for now as Netanyahu’s respiratory machine”, the news site says. The pandemic is providing “the necessary amount of oxygen [for him to] remain in office and out of the courtroom”, it adds.
However, Ben Caspit, author of The Netanyahu Years, told CNN that it is “impossible to disconnect his call for an ‘emergency government’ or a ‘unity government’ from the fact that he failed once again to muster a majority”.
Caspit, a longstanding critic of the Israeli prime minister, added that Netanyahu has “thrice been unsuccessful in his bid to get reelected... [but] refuses to hand over the reins.
He added that Netanyahu is now “exploiting a national crisis to retain his grip on power”.
On Sunday, Israel’s president announced that opposition leader Benny Gantz, of the Blue and White party, had received enough support from lawmakers to attempt to form his own government.
Gantz has since slammed Netanyahu’s manoeuvring, writing on Twitter: “Netanyahu, let's not manipulate the public. If you're interested in unity, why postpone your trial at 1 a.m. and send an ‘emergency unity’ outline to the press, rather than sending your negotiating team to a meeting.”