Analysis |

Key Witness in Netanyahu Trial Thought He Had the Perfect Plan. It Just Blew Up in His Face

Filber, turned state's evidence, tried not to anger Netanyahu, and hoped that the prosecution would be satisfied with his softened versions. Now he's risking prosecution – and also getting his esteemed patron into trouble

Gidi Weitz
Gidi Weitz
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Filber in the Jerusalem District Court, on Tuesday.
Filber in the Jerusalem District Court, on Tuesday.Credit: Oren Ben Hakoon/Israel Hayom
Gidi Weitz
Gidi Weitz

Like Ehud Olmert before him, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not have the sense to internalize the lesson left behind by Ariel Sharon, the most sophisticated fox of all: If you intend to take a chance and to cross the line between the allowed and the forbidden, take only your nuclear family with you. They are the only ones who won’t turn their backs on you in times of trouble and who will agree to pay a high price so that not a hair of your head is harmed.

Shlomo Filber, who describes himself as a sharp, perceptive and sophisticated person, didn’t pay attention during the first lesson in former Olmert aide Shula Zaken’s school: Know your place, acknowledge your sins – and from the moment that you decide to cross the Rubicon and incriminate your esteemed patron, follow this agonizing path to the end. Filber fell into the abyss that usually awaits people who have too high an opinion of themselves: He thought that in the lethal situation in which he found himself he could placate everyone, trick everyone and emerge with a few scratches at most.

As opposed to Nir Hefetz, who suffered for two weeks until he broke the code of silence — the omerta — Filber volunteered to cooperate shortly after his arrest. In his detailed and disturbing testimony, he described how he had become a puppet in the hands of crony capitalism, of people who took care of each other’s narrow interests at his expense and at the expense of all of us, and how it was Filber who convinced Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit that Netanyahu was guilty of bribery.

Mendelblit and other top justice officials saw proportionality, consistency and signs of truth in his testimony. Mendelblit considered Filber the most important state witness of all. In order to establish the indictment against Netanyahu, the attorney general agreed to waive the filing of an indictment against Filber, although he believed that there was a good chance that he would be convicted and that he was likely to be sent to prison.

Netanyahu and Elovitch in the Jerusalem District Court, on Monday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

From the moment the investigation ended, instead of maintaining a degree of modesty or engaging in soul-searching in private, Filber began a series of arrogant tweets on Twitter, which the devoted admirers of the principal defendant liked very much. This flood caused them to think that he was actually on their side; that he also thought that Netanyahu had been framed, that the theory at the basis of the indictment was bizarre and that Netanyahu, as a public servant, wanted only to rescue the communications market from the hands of power-hungry officials, journalists with vested interests and self-righteous legal experts.

The members of the cult believed that the moment Filber went on the witness stand, he would acquit Netanyahu and expose the ugly faces of those who conspired to incriminate the leader.

But Filber the strategist had no plans to make a U-turn, but rather to zigzag cautiously between two lanes: to confirm central scenes in the plot, and on the other hand to remove the sting from them and to depict them as banal and routine. This tendency could already be discerned on the first day of his testimony. Filber confirmed the existence of the most important event in the file – the meeting in which Netanyahu instructed him to help Shaul Elovitch.

And then he added a statement that did not feature in his statements to police or have a basis in reality: “I didn’t do any of the things that he asked.” Prosecutor Yehudit Tirosh looked surprised. “Was the Bezeq-Yes deal approved in the end?” she asked. “Yes,” Filber hastened to clarify, and was transparently exposed.

Prosecutor Yehudit Tirosh in the Jerusalem District Court, this month.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

This week, things went wrong. Netanyahu understood that despite the twisting and turning, his confidant was only deepening the criminal hole in which he finds himself. His attack dogs hastened to cruelly assail Filber on social media. The prosecution team also had no trouble identifying the witness’ clumsy attempt to dilute his incriminating testimony, to the point that several of his replies in the courtroom contradicted firm statements he had made to police investigators. The double game wasn’t lost on the judges, either. Although they didn’t declare him a hostile witness, they allowed Tirosh to conduct an aggressive cross-examination.

It is still too early to estimate how things will develop, but later on the court may accede to the request of the prosecution, and file an indictment against Filber due to the violation of the agreement with him. If that happens, there won’t just be a desire to bring Filber to justice, but also a resounding and deterrent message to the state witnesses who follow him.

Filber didn’t believe that he would reach this moment. He thought that he would enjoy both worlds: The prosecution would make do with the things that he confirmed, and Netanyahu would be satisfied with his mild and lenient descriptions. But his strategic plan exploded in his face. The latest development does not augur well for Netanyhu himself, either. It would have been preferable for him had Filber been seen as an avenging, resentful and exaggerating witness rather than an admirer who incriminates him in the investigation rooms and stammers in the courtroom.

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