Anger as Hollywood billionaire Arnon Milchan begins Netanyahu corruption trial testimony from UK

Pro-democracy protestors greeted the Hollywood mogul and Sarah Netanyahu at her husband’s corruption trial


More than 200 Israeli pro-Democracy protestors demonstrated outside a Brighton hotel on Sunday where Hollywood billionaire producer Arnon Milchan gave testimony via video link in Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial.

Milchan, best known for producing Hollywood blockbusters such as Pretty Woman and Fight Club, is a key witness in “Case 1000”, one of three corruption cases against the Israeli prime minister.

Israeli prosecutors accuse Netanyahu of illicitly accepting gifts including cigars and champagne and other expensive gifts worth up to $195,000 from the film mogul and another billionaire in exchange for personal favours while he was the Minister of Communications.

Alleged favours include creating regulations that exempt Israelis returning from abroad from declaring foreign income, arranging with American officials the extension of Milchan’s US resident permit, and assisting with a merger deal of a TV channel partly owned by Milchan.

Milchan has denied any wrongdoing and will testify from Sunday to Thursday for two weeks. Up to two days will be given to the prosecution’s examination, before Netanyahu’s defence attorney Amit Hadid begins his cross-examination.

Netanyahu, Israel's longest-serving prime minister, faces a litany of corruption charges including bribery, fraud, and breach of trust, and has denied all accusations. He said he was not acting in Milchan's personal interests and even occasionally acted against them. He says the exchanges of gifts were just friendly gestures.

The Jerusalem District Court last month granted Milchan permission to testify remotely after he reportedly claimed he was unable to travel to Israel for health reasons.

Sara Netanyahu, the premier’s wife, was also present at the hearing in Brighton in place of her husband amid anger from protesters.

Israeli Channel 13 aired footage of Netanyahu and Milchan, 78, walking separately up the stairs in the hotel. A screen was set up in the Jerusalem courtroom to air the testimony.

"I can't tell you how many things Bibi and I did in secret for the country," he said in his testimony, using Netanyahu's nickname.

When the prime minister arrived at the Jerusalem court to watch from afar, Milchan greeted him off-screen with "Shalom, Bibi!"

Sara arrived shortly before 9am to chants of "Shame, shame, shame" and "Democracy, democracy, democracy".

One protestor, David Netser, told the JC: “Sarah, bringing all her security and entourage at the expense of the Israeli taxpayer to sit, as a mummy, in that room to look at the tycoon Milchan, is unacceptable. It shows that Israel is a third world country, a non-democratic country. 

“We are here to try and bring about a situation that will see Israel return to being a democratic state. And that will only happen if the unholy triangle of Sarah, her son Yair and the prime minister himself vanish somewhere else into obscurity and to leave the Israelis to rebuild the country."

One protestor, dressed like Marie Antoinette, posed beside two girls dressed as maids and a table spread of champagne, cigars, jewellery, and other assorted expensive gifts. 

Protester Alma Samocha from Brighton said the items and the playing of the Godfather theme music represented the "extravagance and indulgence" of the Netanyahu family.

The biscuit cake that was displayed on the table spread represented the biscuit cake that Sarah Netanyahu tried to bake publicly online during a covid lockdown in 2020.

Defend Israeli Democracy UK, the UK arm of the Israeli protest movement, organised the demonstration outside the Old Ship Hotel, where the testimony was live streamed to the Jerusalem District Court.

The group has so far organised several protests. During Netanyahu’s visit to London in March, over 2000 Israelis and British Jews demonstrated outside 10 Downing Street, with hundreds more also laying siege to the Savoy Hotel, where Netanyahu and his wife were staying.

Organiser Sharon Shochat said: “Right now there is an indicted prime minister leading the country, within an extreme government, conducting an assault on a democratic Israel. 

“Israel is on the verge of losing its democracy."

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive