Analysis

Testimony by Netanyahu's Disgraced Spin Doctor May Mean Early Elections – but Risks Abound

Even during an election campaign, police investigations won't stall. But they could increase support for the prime minister on the right

Netanyahu and Hefetz in 2015
Tomer Appelbaum

The quotes attributed to Nir Hefetz, the prime minister’s media consultant-turned-state witness, that featured prominently on television news broadcasts Monday night were devoid of criminal significance. They belonged to the zone between juicy gossip, fond wishes and the searing pain of a betrayed wife.

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Above all, they were meant to endear Hefetz to the media, which just goes to show that Netanyahu’s certified spin doctor remains exactly that, even when he’s in some police facility singing his heart out “for the good of the country,” as one report quoted him saying. The services Hefetz provided for free – at least most, if not all, of the time – to the prime minister, his wife and his son will from now on be employed for his own benefit.

The first to sign a state witness agreement was Ari Harow, the money man, the one responsible for big donors and international connections. Next came the regulator from the Communications Ministry, Shlomo Filber. And on Monday it was the turn of Hefetz, the chief wheeler-dealer and agent, practically a member of the family, to join the dubious club of people who have turned state’s evidence and are supposed to help send Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to jail.

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It’s inconceivable that there’s nothing to say. Layer by layer, brick by brick, the police, with the attorney general’s consent, have dismantled the defensive wall around the chief suspect. The information shared by Harow, Filber and Hefetz, which they have committed to give the police and then the court, is from deep inside the safe room.

Together, they’re supposed to spin a dense web of evidence in which each strand complements the others, thereby lending perspective and context to events, shedding light on questions of criminal intent, and demonstrating patterns of behavior, intentions and methods. Otherwise, there’s no justification for the extravagant breaks which law enforcement agencies have given these three criminals, all of whom have confessed their crimes.

Those who say the growing number of people turning state’s evidence shows the police are determined to sew Netanyahu up from head to toe are right. He’s the head of the system, the man at the top, the chief corrupter and most corrupt (allegedly), on a scale never seen before in modern Israel. Cleaning the stables must therefore begin from the top.

The question that reverberated on Monday, following the deal with Hefetz, is how this development would affect the possibility of early elections over the Knesset crisis involving legislation about ultra-Orthodox conscription. Ostensibly, if Netanyahu wants to be reelected and then face an indictment from a stronger position, with a new mandate from the public, what happened Monday should bolster his resolve. On the other hand, the risk of a new election has also increased.

The investigations won’t stop for a moment, even during an election campaign. Hefetz’s testimony is expected to reopen cases 1000 and 2000, which deal with lavish gifts and the Yedioth Ahronoth quid-pro-quo affair, and in which the police have already recommended charging Netanyahu, so the prime minister and everyone else involved will have to be questioned again.

In our reality, it’s not ridiculous to think that the deeper Netanyahu sinks in the legal quagmire, the more right-wing voters will support him. Even now, his Likud party is growing stronger in the polls at the expense of Habayit Hayehudi. That’s why the latter party’s leaders, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, are going crazy trying to solve the conscription law crisis. They understand that elections that revolve around one question only – are you for or against Netanyahu – will make them utterly superfluous.

Despite several attempts to reach a compromise over the ultra-Orthodox not being drafted – or dodging the draft – two important players turned up the heat on Monday. Defense Minister Avidgor Lieberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, announced that if the proposed Basic Law on Torah study passes (in all three votes, which is completely impossible), he will draw the necessary conclusions. His fellow opponent of the bill, Finance Minister and Kulanu party Chairman Moshe Kahlon, made a more explicit threat: If the 2019 budget doesn’t pass next week, he’ll resign, since he won’t have a “public mandate” to remain in his job.

The public will doubtless be surprised to hear that its continued support for Kahlon depends on approving the budget nine months before the deadline. Who actually cares whether the budget passes in May, June, September or December?