Former U.S. President Donald Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 felony charges in a New York City court on Tuesday, becoming the first American president to be criminally indicted. Trump faces counts of falsifying business records in the first degree related to alleged hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 election campaign.
Trump spoke in the evening from his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida and said he "never thought anything like this could happen in America."
“The only crime I have committed was to fearlessly defend our nation from those who seek to destroy it,” he added.
Lawyers of the former president and current Republican front-runner in the 2024 elections have accused Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg of leading a “political persecution.” They vowed to fight hard against the charges.
Following the arraignment, Trump's attorney Todd Blanche was quoted by CNN as saying: "It's not a good day ... I don't expect this to happen in this country. You don't expect this to happen ... to somebody who was the president of the United States.”
However, in Israel, images of political leaders appearing in court to face criminal charges are not a rarity. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been indicted for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in his ongoing trial. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert became the first former Israeli head of government to be jailed in 2016, after being convicted of bribery and obstruction of justice. Former Israeli President Moshe Katsav was convicted of rape and other sexual offenses in 2010. He served five years of his seven-year sentence.
Notwithstanding, many Israelis are paying close attention to Trump’s case unfolding in New York, as it pertains to the hottest topic presently discussed in the Jewish state: the politicization of the judiciary.
Israel has been in turmoil in recent weeks over a controversial reform pushed by the government to overhaul the judicial system. Opponents of the reform say it will politicize the country’s Supreme Court and allow for a coalition power-grab. Supporters believe that Israel’s current justice system is a politicized one with an “overreaching” and “activist” Supreme Court.
In the days leading up to Trump’s arraignment, pundits on both sides in Israel have articulated their arguments in favor and against the reform, referencing the historic U.S. precedent.
Ynet journalist and political commentator Attila Somfalvi, who often tweets against the judicial reform, wrote on Sunday: “A Democrat DA is sending Trump to court. How good is a complete politicization of the judiciary?” He mockingly added with clown emojis: “Let politicians appoint judges... Like in America, Like in America.”
Channel 14 news anchor and commentator Erel Segal, who leans in favor of the reform, referred to Trump’s indictment in New York as “Stalinist methods to neutralize political opponents.” He compared it to Netanyahu’s trial, which is viewed by many of his right-wing Israeli supporters as biased and politically motivated.
“I think it’s a dark day in the history of American democracy because it will open door for future retaliation,” Segal said on-air. He added that Israel has found itself in a “crazy tailspin over a stupid trial for four years ,” referencing Netanyahu’s case and saying “this could also happen in America.”
Comparisons between Trump and Netanyahu’s legal fate are not only prevalent on the Israeli Right. Former lawmaker Yair Golan from the left-wing party Meretz, which did not pass the threshold in the last elections, wrote on Twitter: “The alliance between Trump and Netanyahu appears to be closer and tighter than ever... The only remaining open question is who will be convicted sooner.”
In both the U.S. and in Israel, many people believe the charges against Trump and Netanyahu are politically motivated. A poll conducted in 2021 by the left-leaning Israel Democracy Institute found that 42% think Netanyahu’s trial is a politicized one.
A CNN survey found that 76% of Americans think politics played a role in the decision to indict the former president. Nevertheless, 60% said they approve of the indictment.
A Quinnipiac University survey found that 62% said the grand jury inquiry has been “mainly motivated by politics.” Among Republicans, 93% said they believe that Alvin Bragg’s investigation was politically motivated, as well as 70% of independents and only 29% of Democrats.
The same poll also showed that 57% of Americans think that criminal charges should disqualify Trump from running again. When Israel’s Channel 12 news asked the same questions in 2019 about Netanyahu, 52% of Israelis said he should be disqualified from running. Four years later, Netanyahu is still the prime minister.
Tal Heinrich is a senior correspondent for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS. She is currently based in New York City. Tal also provides reports and analysis for Israeli Hebrew media Channel 14 News.