Israeli Chief Justice Calls on Attorney General to Probe Leaks in Netanyahu Cases

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut says leaks are 'a worrying trend that undermines the public’s trust and the prosecution'

Netael Bandel
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Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, May 2020.
Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, May 2020.Credit: Oren Ben Hakon
Netael Bandel

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut said Monday that the attorney general ought to open a preliminary investigation into leaks to the media from the criminal cases against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

These leaks “are a worrying trend that undermines the public’s trust and the prosecution itself,” she said during a High Court of Justice hearing.

The court was hearing a petition demanding that the leaks be investigated, filed by Shaul Elovitch, the owner of the Bezeq telecommunications company who has been charged with bribing Netanyahu.

“We’d like to voice severe displeasure,” Hayut said on behalf of the court, noting that such leaks “aren’t rare occurrences” that could be dismissed as a one-time lapse. “In the end, this will boomerang on you. Not to mention the damage to the judicial process that is to take place in court.”

Israel's Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, August 2020.
Israel's Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, August 2020.Credit: Meged Gozani

Hayut also criticized Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit’s decision not to investigate the leaks. “This is a systemic problem,” she said. “Hasn’t the time come to do something? To look into it?”

Moreover, she said, this case was ideal for such a probe, because it involved leaked audio recordings, and the potential suspects are “a limited field. How many people within the prosecution were exposed to these tapes?”

“We find it upsetting that nothing was done, after consultations,” she continued. “Consider conducting a preliminary inquiry into the leaks.”

Attorney Jonathan Nadav, who represents Mendelblit, disputed Hayut’s assertion that this would be an easy case to probe, saying dozens of people had been exposed to the tapes and their transcripts.

“This means we’d have to investigate a large number of people, and it would require obtaining communications data and even polygraphs,” he said. “This is a non-negligible demand, and the number of people is very large.”

Moreover, he said, such an inquiry would undermine freedom of the press. “This isn’t a case that justifies the drastic step of requesting that journalistic immunity be removed,” he said.

But Hayut was unconvinced. “Had you carried out a preliminary inquiry, summoned someone who was a candidate for the leak ... something that would indicate an effort before you said there was no point in an inquiry,” she said. “We’re having trouble with the situation in which you aren’t doing anything, and our proposal is that you consider conducting a preliminary inquiry regarding the audio tapes.”

Nadav insisted that Mendelblit “views the leaks severely,” and the fact that he didn’t see fit to open a criminal investigation in this case doesn’t mean he won’t do so in other cases.

But that failed to pacify Justice Noam Sohlberg. “The severity with which the attorney general views this ought to be given practical expression,” he said. “It’s possible to take initial steps, to chart the circles of who is more suspect and who less so.”

Elovitch is charged with tilting the news coverage of Bezeq’s internet news site, Walla, in Netanyahu’s favor in exchange for regulatory benefits worth around a billion shekels ($290 million). His petition argued that certain media reports of the case have been based on leaks from the prosecution.

The petition is based primarily on two reports on Channel 13 television. One aired sections of tapes made by Walla’s former CEO, Ilan Yeshua, of his conversations with Elovitch and his wife, Iris Elovitch.

The other reported the discovery of a new piece of evidence in the case – a note to himself written by former Communications Ministry Director General Shlomo Filber following a meeting with Netanyahu. Filber, who has turned state’s evidence, wrote that Netanyahu had ordered him to ease the regulatory burden on Bezeq. 

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