Former Labor Party chairman Isaac Herzog, who is now the leading candidate as Israel's next president, in effect dictated a headline to Ilan Yeshua, the CEO of the Walla news website at the time, who is now a key prosecution witness in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bribery trial. Herzog's request for a headline came after Herzog won an internal party battle at the 2013 Labor Party convention.
Under cross-examination of Yeshua Tuesday in Jerusalem District Court, lawyers for Shaul Elovitch and his wife, Iris, produced a 2013 message from Herzog to Yeshua: “I’d be happy if the headline is ‘Crushing victory for Herzog in spite of the attacks on him,’” the Labor leader wrote. “I need to demonstrate control and exclusion of the bitch,” referring to former Labor Party leader and MK Shelly Yacimovich.
Yeshua wrote back: “Okay, I’m dealing with it. I’m in Hawaii but I’ll instruct Avi [Alkalay],” the former editor of the Walla news website.
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Later on Tuesday, Herzog said: “This morning things were reported that I said in the heat of a fervent political battle in 2013 about Shelly Yacimovich who I ran against in the primary at that time. Between political rivals there are more and less stormy periods. Shelly and I spoke more than once since that frenzied period and have moved on, but I find it proper to apologize to her and also publicly for the necessary statement that was out of place.”
Netanyahu is on trial on allegations of giving hundreds of millions of shekels in regulatory benefits to Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder at the time of Bezeq telecommunications and now his co-defendant, in return for favorable coverage on the Bezeq-owned website Walla. The revelation about Herzog was part of the defense strategy to try to show that Walla’s trading of favors with politicians was not limited to Netanyahu, but a common practice.
Iris Elovitch’s lawyer, Michal Rosen-Ozer, asked Yeshua whether he remembered an instance in which he approached a politician and offered to help him, and that politician later asked for favorable coverage. After Yeshua answered that he didn’t remember such a case, Rosen-Ozer presented a message that Yeshua sent to Herzog after his interrogation by the police.
“If you need something, talk to me, without hesitation, I’m sure that you’re right,” Yeshua wrote him. After being shown the correspondence, Yeshua said: “Now when you say that, I remember. But that’s a rare case.”
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Later, Rosen-Ozer presented further correspondence between Yeshua and Herzog after his proposal to postpone the primary for Labor Party leader was accepted. Yeshua wrote him: “Congratulations! Don’t hesitate to ask my help in anything.” In response, Herzog asked Yeshua to write a headline he would like, and Yeshua agreed. After that Yeshua wrote to Herzog: “Send me more material and I’ll prepare a big item on the victory and about all the attempts to make it fail.”
Elovitch’s lawyers said in court that the correspondence between Yeshua and Herzog was given to them by mistake by the prosecution, and they demanded to receive all the conversations Yeshua conducted with politicians. The prosecutor in the case, Judith Tirosh, said in response that the prosecution did not think this was investigative material, “but of course it is possible to disagree.”
Jacques Chen, the lawyer representing former Bezeq shareholder Shaul Elovitch, told the court how the correspondence was discovered: “I’m a complete technophobe, but I began to press on things in the interface we were sent and suddenly over 900 contacts were opened … who spoke with the witness Yeshua. … We were shocked.” Netanyahu’s lawyers told him that they likewise did not receive the materials, said Chen.
Tirosh argued that the classification of the materials from the investigation was done by the police. In response, Judge Moshe Bar-Am said: “It is beyond my understanding how this was categorized as irrelevant material.”
The presiding judge of the three-judge panel, Rivka Friedman-Feldman, asked Tirosh: “Does the defense have in practice all the correspondence from this phone of Yeshua’s? That the state has not gone over? I’m asking because maybe we need to go back to the police and tell them to reexamine it.”
Tirosh replied: “Maybe. I don’t know how to answer this question.”