Analysis |

Netanyahu Trial Witness Didn’t Say ‘Bribery,’ but Painted a Very Clear Picture

Unlike some previous witnesses, Hadas Klein gave fluent, credible testimony. In future sessions, Arnon Milchan’s right-hand woman will likely provide information about one of the darker chapters of the lavish gifts case

Gidi Weitz
Gidi Weitz
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Hadas Klein in court, Tuesday.
Hadas Klein in court, Tuesday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Gidi Weitz
Gidi Weitz

The Jerusalem District Court began hearing evidence more than a year ago in former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption cases, and dozens of witnesses have already testified. Nevertheless, many of those in the courtroom on Tuesday felt as if they were hearing the first prosecution witness.

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An abyss separated Hadas Klein’s clear, fluent and credible testimony from the embarrassing twists and turns of, say, Shlomo Filber, who was frightened and eager to please. And unlike Nir Hefetz and others, Klein took the stand with no glass houses of her own.

Klein, the right-hand woman of businessman Arnon Milchan and later the Israeli representative of James Packer, made it clear from the first day of her testimony what the so-called Case 1000 (one of three against Netanyahu) is all about. To win admission to the prime minister’s residence and be in regular contact with Israel’s most important center power, you had to pay, and dearly, in the form of boxes of cigars, cases of champagne and expensive jewelry.

Klein delicately described Milchan, which whom she has worked for 30 years, as a tight-fisted man (“calculated,” in her word) who insisted on approving outlays of as little as 20 shekels ($5.70), despite having billions in the bank. She testified that he very much disliked the demands posed by Netanyahu and his wife, but thought there was “no choice.”

He apparently knew that to get the then-prime minister out of meetings, ensure that Netanyahu would intervene on his behalf when needed, and be able to boast to the world about his ties with Netanyahu, he needed to provide the goods.

The word “bribe” was never uttered in Tuesday’s hearing, but the picture was clear to any reasonable person who heard the testimony. When an interested party understands that to approach those in power, he has to come bearing gifts, he is effectively paying a bribe.

This case, as Klein showed, is easy to digest; it doesn’t require too many explanations. It doesn’t involve any complex regulations or phrases like “reform of the wholesale market.” And for the prosecution, that’s an advantage.

But serious though it is, this case is less serious than Case 4000. That case involves a publisher who for years corrupted an online news site and rode roughshod over constitutional principles – freedom of the press and dozens of reporters and editors’ freedom of occupation – while also misleading consumers.

In addition, Case 4000 is a story of the corruption inherent in political appointments of cronies. A political campaign’s chief of staff becomes director-general of the Communications Ministry, receives an order from his boss (according to his testimony) and therefore takes reckless steps to promote the interests of a monopoly at the public’s expense.

The final case, Case 2000, is about another, even more powerful publisher who conducted secret negotiations with the prime minister over a bribery deal – tilting his media empire’s coverage in exchange for government support for legislation that would be worth a huge amount of money to him.

James Packer and Sara Netanyahu attend Benjamin Netanyahu's speech to Congress in Washington, 2015.Credit: AFP

The gifts case can help the public understand its sister cases, thanks to their common themes – Netanyahu’s self-interested ties with billionaires, the intensive involvement of his wife and son in everything he did, the way a man who is fundamentally smart and cautious became increasingly obtuse as his time in office lengthened, and his obsession with getting others to fund the establishment of sympathetic media outlets to ensure his continued political survival.

In the coming sessions, Klein is expected to elaborate on one of the darkest chapters of Case 1000 – the profitable relationship that developed between the Netanyahu family and Packer, a businessman with psychological problems. She will surely describe Packer’s repeated breakdowns, the way he showered goodies on the family, the moment he fell apart because he could no longer meet the Netanyahus’ expectations, the prime minister’s bizarre phone call with the psychiatrist treating his good friend and benefactor, and Milchan’s threats to fire her when she refused to divulge his business partner’s condition.

“Come to the cross-examination,” Netanyahu’s lawyer, Amit Hadad, suggested to reporters on Tuesday, promising surprises without elaborating. When Klein was not in the courtroom, he told the judges that the contradictions in her testimony innumerable, and that she was driven by hatred. Klein did not voice any hostility during her testimony, but a charged, vigilant energy was apparent.

James Packer and Arnon Milchan attend Netanyahu's speech to Congress, 2015.Credit: AFP

When Judge Moshe Bar-Am asked whether she was angry, tears welled up in Klein’s eyes for a moment. She then spoke about the courage she needed to testify and how in doing so she was endangering her future.

“When I saw what [Sara] Netanyahu said about me, I was very hurt,” she acknowledged. “Is there any line at which you stop and say, ‘I won’t hurt another person at any cost?’”The remarks by Klein, who spent many hours in the Netanyahu couple’s company, made it clear that she wouldn’t forgive those who are making false accusations against her. This may be a kind of preview for her cross-examination.

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