Netanyahu Didn't See Relationship With News Site as Criminal, Former Spokesman Says

'I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. When you’re the head of Likud communications, you’re supposed to do everything to win the elections' Hefetz says of tilting coverage in Netanyahu's favor

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Former Netanyahu aide Nir Hefetz at the Jerusalem District Court, Wednesday.
Former Netanyahu aide Nir Hefetz at the Jerusalem District Court, Wednesday. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Nir Hefetz, Benjamin Netanyahu’s former spokesman who has turned state’s evidence, testified in court Wednesday that the former prime minister saw nothing criminal in the tilting of coverage at the Walla website.

In response to Netanyahu’s attorney, Boaz Ben Tzur, Hefetz described his position regarding the case: “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. When you’re the head of Likud communications [Hefetz’s role in the 2015 elections] you’re supposed to do everything to win the elections. The fact that I heard from Mr. Elovitch what I said I heard [according to Hefetz, Shaul Elovitch, controlling shareholder in Walla, made it clear to him that the site is at the Netanyahu family’s disposal] ... if Walla is on our side then great, very good. It seemed the most natural thing that if Ynet is against us, Walla will be for us.

"I acted as a spokesman and didn’t exceed my role. I felt uncomfortable, but I didn’t think I was doing anything illegal, that I’m crossing any red lines, except the obstruction [the attempt to obstruct the investigation into the case]. Neither he [Netanyahu] nor I think we’re within a criminal framework.”

However, in his main testimony, Hefetz told how, following reports of a covert investigation against Netanyahu, he met with attorney Yossi Cohen. “There were a lot of names there that he compiled the evening before with Netanyahu, they tried to think who it could be. Elovitch was at the top of the list.” Hefetz further testified that Sara and Yair Netanyahu demanded that he make sure that Elovitch and his wife Iris delete the correspondence between the parties, but according to his testimony, Benjamin Netanyahu was not present during that exchange.

When asked about his relationship with Sara Netanyahu, Hefetz said: “She’s a very smart woman and a lot of her good sides don’t show through in the media.” Hefetz said that after his family, Mrs. Netanyahu was the main source of the “emotional difficulty” for him in turning state’s evidence.

He testified that most of his activity as media adviser concerned improving Sara Netanyahu’s image. Ben Tzur sought to show that requests for coverage of her activities – such as visiting with Holocaust survivors – had substantial news value. The prosecution witness concurred with this statement to the point where the defense attorney remarked, “It looks like we wrote this cross-examination together.”

In response to Ben Tzur’s question, Hefetz said Netanyahu’s spokesman, Boaz Stambler, asked him to help promote news items in places where “I have a relative edge.” To a question by Judge Moshe Bar-Am, Hefetz replied that Walla was one such platform, “because of the personal connection with Elovitch and what he made clear to me.”

Hefetz made it clear that he wasn’t privy to all the goings-on around Netanyahu. “Netanyahu would compartmentalize. Every person in their drawer. Only people like Dermer [former Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer] or Harow [Ari, formerly Netanyahu’s chief of staff and now a state witness in the various cases against Netanyahu] were involved in everything, but even to them not all was open. I was in my drawer.”

Ben Tzur repeatedly argued that Walla was actually hostile to Netanyahu, and Hefetz confirmed that his boss saw it as such, explaining that he held that view about all of the media. Hefetz further stated that Netanyahu spends much time and effort on what he sees as an attempt to balance the media and get right-wingers into media organs. “He’d speak to me about it for hours at a time for years,” Hefetz testified.

The defense attorney showed the witness news reports of his police testimony, which he claimed were leaked by law enforcement, calling them “an ongoing terror spree during an election campaign.” Hefetz agreed about the source of the leaks, stating that “police and the prosecution have a monopoly on the information, and there were times it was obvious it had reached the media from them. There were leaks that broke me, I couldn’t leave the house after them. You’re a state witness, and the state shoots you in the back. I haven’t leaked a thing in four years.”

Ben Tzur announced that he will conclude Hefetz’s cross-examination in the next hearing. Then the witness will be cross-examined by attorneys Jacques Chen and Michal Rosen-Ozer, representing Shaul and Iris Elovitch, followed by Navit Negev, representing Yediot Aharonot publisher Arnon Mozes.

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