Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s court date has been delayed to May 24, announced the Jerusalem District Court on Sunday morning, following new directives put in place on Saturday night to combat the spread of COVID-19.

“In light of developments regarding the spread of the coronavirus, and taking into account the latest guidelines given and the declaration of a state of emergency in the courts, we have decided to cancel the scheduled hearing,” stated the three-judge panel presiding over Netanyahu’s trial.

The announcement follows Israeli Justice Minister Amir Ohana’s Sunday-morning declaration of a 24-hour “state of emergency” in Israel’s courts “as part of the national effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” thereby freezing non-urgent hearings.

Ohana’s declaration was given four hours after Netanyahu, whose trial on corruption charges had been set for March 17, announced on Saturday a raft of new, stricter regulations aimed at stemming the coronavirus outbreak, including the closing of all schools and banning public gatherings exceeding 10 people.

A Justice Ministry spokesman said in a statement that the decision to postpone the trial had been made “as part of the national effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus … in accordance with the recommendations of Health Ministry staff, and in coordination with the courts administration and the attorney general.”

In response to the ruling, the Israeli NGO Movement for Quality Government announced that it would file a petition today with the High Court demanding that the state of emergency be canceled. The group claimed that Ohana, who was appointed by Netanyahu, “is a temporary minister in a transitional government, who hasn’t received the public’s backing and whose appointment was never approved by the Knesset.”

The postponement, claimed the group, “trampled” the Israeli legal system.

“Using the new regulations to rescue Netanyahu from facing a trial is grave and constitutes a new step in trampling over law-enforcement authorities in Israel,” claimed the group, adding that “the regulations stand in conflict with Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, possibly amounting to a grave, unconstitutional violation of human rights, and were never approved by the Knesset.”

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