Corruption Case on Israel's Opposition Leader Closed for Lack of Evidence

Attorney general criticizes Isaac Herzog, who was suspected of benefiting from the funding of political activities, over his version of events.

Zionist Union Chairman Isaac Herzog, December 2016.
Olivier Fitoussi

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit announced on Monday that he is closing the corruption case against opposition leader Isaac Herzog for lack of sufficient evidence. However, he said there was enough evidence to indict Herzog’s campaign manager, Shimon Batat, and businessman Gilad Ramot for election financing offenses.

Despite the decision on Herzog, Mendelblit criticized the Zionist Union leader’s version of events, saying it did not match testimony about a third campaign against party rival MK Shelly Yacimovich.

Israel Hayom initially reported that Herzog had helped Ramot’s nursing care personnel company, Matan, while the latter funded part of his campaign for the 2013 Knesset elections. The report also asserted that Batat, Herzog’s campaign manager, had arranged for Ramot to pay another person 40,000 shekels ($10,600) to run their negative campaign against Yacimovich.

In May 2015, then-attorney general Yehuda Weinstein ordered police to open an inquiry in response to the report. The inquiry found attorney Daniel Cohen to be the manager of the anti-Yacimovich campaign. He told police that he ran the smear campaign against Yacimovich in accordance with the deal with Batat and Herzog.

The attorney general’s announcement noted that checks from Ramot to Cohen had been seized, and investigations had been conducted into testimony from software programmers whom Cohen said he had hired to run the negative campaign, as well as from officials from a branch of the nursing care personnel company. The officials’ testimonies revealed that Herzog had approached them a number of times asking them to hire Cohen. Their reports to the state comptroller did not include documentation of the payment Ramot made to Cohen or his hiring of Cohen in Herzog’s campaign headquarters.

Batat and Ramot were also investigated. Ramot asserted he had paid Cohen for a legal service, but couldn’t be specific.

Herzog questioned under caution

It was decided at this stage to question Herzog under caution. Herzog denied opposing reforms in the nursing care industry because of personal interests, adding that he didn’t know about the smear campaign because he didn’t agree to it with Cohen and didn’t know about Ramot paying Cohen.

The attorney general hinted at criticism of Herzog’s testimony. “His version by which he didn’t know in real time that there was a simultaneous negative campaign against Yacimovich, and that he didn’t know Cohen was waging this campaign as part of his own campaign, does not match Cohen’s testimony that has additional support in the evidence,” he wrote.

Mendelblit added: “However, even if one could learn from the evidence as noted that Cohen did make a principle agreement with Herzog to run a negative campaign against Yaciovich as part of Herzog’s campaign, one cannot attribute to Herzog the necessary awareness in a criminal case that Ramot paid Cohen for running the negative campaign.”

Regarding Batat and Ramot, Mendelblit did find room to indict them. They have the right to hold a hearing with Tel Aviv prosecutor Shlomo Lemberger prior to indictment.