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Courts put in ‘state of emergency,’ likely postponing Netanyahu’s trial

Justice Minister Amir Ohana declared a 24-hour “state of emergency” in Israel’s court system early Sunday morning, “as part of the national effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.”

The decision means that courts can only sit for urgent hearings on arrest and remand orders, administrative detention orders, offenses under legislation “relating to the special emergency” and certain interim relief in civil matters.

A statement from Ohana’s office said the decision was made based on Health Ministry recommendations and that “there is a real fear of serious harm to public health” if the court system continued as normal.

While the emergency measures will initially only be in place for 24 hours, the statement from the justice minister’s office said that Ohana would assess the situation throughout Sunday to decide “on how to move forward.”

If the measures are extended, as expected, Netanyahu’s trial — in which he faces seven counts of three criminal charges: fraud and breach of trust in Cases 1000 and 2000, and bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Case 4000 — would not be able to begin on Tuesday as scheduled, and could potentially be delayed for months.

Ohana is a vocal ally of Netanyahu and has become a frequent critic of the courts and the criminal cases against the prime minister.

Netanyahu, in November, became Israel’s first sitting prime minister with charges against him, when Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced he would indict him — though the charges were only filed officially in January, when the prime minister dropped a bid for Knesset immunity.

Netanyahu denies the charges and claims he is the victim of an attempted “political coup” involving the opposition, media, police and state prosecutors.

Last week, the Jerusalem District Court rejected Netanyahu’s request to delay the start of the corruption trial, saying that the first session must go ahead as planned on March 17.

Header: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on March 12, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)