Meet the Judges Who Will Try Netanyahu for Bribery, Fraud and Breach of Trust

Three judges will try Netanyahu in a Jerusalem court

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Credit: Ronen Zvulun/REUTERS
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

The president of the Jerusalem District Court has selected the three judges from his court who will be hearing the criminal charges against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Judge Rivka Friedman-Feldman will head the panel, which will also include Judges Moshe Bar-Am and Oded Shaham, the Judicial Authority announced on Wednesday. Friedman-Feldman and Shaham are considered tough on corruption.

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Friedman-Feldman was named to the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court in 1992 and became a district court judge in 2012. She was on the panel that convicted former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in the case involving cash envelopes from American businessman Morris Talansky. She said that she would have convicted Olmert even without tapes from state witness Shula Zaken. Her position made waves because she was considered young and had broken with the stance of more senior judges.

Friedman-Feldman was in the minority in the case against former Transportation Minister Yitzhak Mordechai, who was convicted of indecent assault. She had thought that he should be sentenced to actual prison time. Although she accepted her colleagues’ position regarding the substance and severity of his offenses, which involved moral turpitude, and also regarding mitigating circumstances, she wrote: “If my opinion had been heard, the mitigating circumstances would have been accorded less weight and the defendant would have been sentenced to prison.”

From left: Moshe Bar-Am, Rivka Friedman-Feldman, and Oded ShahamCredit: Emil Salman and the Israel Bar Association

Friedman-Feldman attached particular importance to the senior public positions that Mordechai had held. He had been a major general in the army and also served as defense minister in addition to transportation minister.

That, she argued, made it particularly important that his sentence highlight appropriate conduct by soldiers and commanders towards their subordinates, and how public servants should relate to the wishes of men and women regarding their physical selves.

“This message is important in and of itself as an educational factor, and a deterrent,” she wrote. Mordechai might feel that the proceedings against him and probation were sufficient, but, she added, they were insufficient in conveying the message that the court should convey, that the public interest supersedes consideration of his personal circumstances. “That interest dictates a significant punishment,” she wrote.

With regard to Judge Shaham, in criminal proceedings against Tzachi Hanegbi over political appointments that he made as environmental protection minister, Shaham was in the minority in being prepared to convict him of fraud and breach of faith.

Shaham was named to the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court in 2004 and was promoted to the district court in 2012. In Hanegbi’s case, a dispute arose between the judges trying it about whether the case involved turpitude over Hanegbi’s conviction for perjury.

Shaham took the harsher majority position, writing: “The question before the court is largely about values, and when talking about values, we are talking about the criteria by which we teach our children; the conduct we want to convey to the people; the expectations we expect of the parties before our court; the conduct we expect of our leaders; the image of society that we want to have. When we are talking about values, what we see before us is people seeking what is good and clean, who take the straight narrow path. Can we state that perjury does not involve moral turpitude?”

In January, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit indicted Netanyahu for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in three cases. Case 1000 involves lavish gifts that the prime minister allegedly received. Case 2000 involves contacts between Netanyahu and the publisher of the Yedioth Aharonoth daily, Arnon Mozes, in which the prime minister is alleged to have offered legislation favorable to Yedioth in exchange for favorable news coverage for the prime minister. Case 4000 involves allegations of beneficial regulatory treatment for the Bezeq telecommunications firm in exchange for favorable news coverage for Netanyahu on Bezeq’s Walla news website through alleged contacts with Bezeq’s controlling shareholder at the time, Shaul Elovitch, and with Elovitch’s wife, Iris.

Netanyahu and the other defendants deny any wrongdoing. The same Jerusalem District Court panel will hear the cases against Mozes and the Elovitches.

Now that the panel has been chosen, a new legal battle that will likely take months is anticipated. Netanyahu’s lawyers are expected to demand investigative materials that they haven’t been provided and may request additional investigative work.

The hearing at which the charges are formally read to the defendants will not take place until after a ruling on these issues. If the judges refuse the request that the prosecution produce additional material, the decision might be appealed to the Supreme Court, although there is generally no right to appeal an interim order to the Supreme Court.

The prime minister’s lawyers are also expected to ask that Netanyahu be spared the obligation to appear in court, probably by claiming that it would impede his ability to run the country. Even if the judges grant that request, he would be required to appear to testify and to be cross-examined – stages that could last weeks.

Because of the complexity of the case, the proceedings might actually move more rapidly because the Jerusalem District Court prefers to schedule daily sessions for large complicated cases. The prosecution has not offered a plea bargain at this stage, although the complexity of cases involving Netanyahu’s interaction with Mozes and Elovitch could lead them to consider it.

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