Benjamin Netanyahu professed his innocence at the start of his corruption trial yesterday, saying he was being framed but "standing tall" in the first criminal prosecution of a serving Israeli prime minister.
Flanked by a group of cabinet ministers from his right-wing Likud party, and speaking forcefully, Netanyahu appealed to public opinion as he addressed television cameras in the courthouse hallway before appearing in front of a three-judge panel.
"These investigations were tainted and stitched up from the first moment," Netanyahu said about charges of bribery, breach of trust and fraud at the center of three graft cases against him.
He dubbed prosecutors and police the "Just Not Bibi Gang," a reference, using his own nickname, to what he has called a witch hunt, abetted by the "left-wing media" and political opponents, to end his record tenure as prime minister.
"I am appearing here today, as your prime minister, standing tall and with head high," Netanyahu told reporters, vowing to beat the charges and continue to lead Israel in his current fifth term.
Netanyahu, 70, was required to appear for the session in Jerusalem District Court, a week after his new unity government was sworn in. Its inauguration ended more than a year of political deadlock in the wake of three inconclusive elections.