JERUSALEM — It was a split-screen spectacle that encapsulated the confounding condition of Israel and its democracy.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared in a Jerusalem court on Monday for the opening of the key, evidentiary phase of his corruption trial. Simultaneously, just two miles across town, representatives of his party were entreating the country’s president to task him with forming Israel’s next government.
For many here, the extraordinary convergence of events was an illustration of a political and constitutional malaise afflicting the nation that gets worse from year to year.
After four inconclusive elections in two years, Mr. Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving prime minister, who is charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, and who denies wrongdoing, remains the most polarizing figure on the political stage. But he is also the leader of Israel’s largest party, which took the most seats in national elections last month.
a viable parliamentary majority, Israel appears stuck, unable to fully condone him or to remove him from the scene.
Now, experts said, the country’s democratic system is in the dock.
“Netanyahu and his supporters are not claiming his innocence but are attacking the very legitimacy of the trial and of the judicial system,” said Shlomo Avineri, professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.
“It is the right of the prime minister to come to court and plead not guilty,” he said. “But his defense is an attack on the legitimacy of the constitutional order.”
Israel was nearing an unprecedented constitutional crisis, he said, its depth underlined by the symbolism of the two processes unfolding in parallel.