Netanyahu's Trial Is Going Worse Than His Worst Nightmare

Raviv Drucker
Raviv Drucker
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Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves a Jerusalem courthouse, in November.
Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves a Jerusalem courthouse, in November.Credit: Jack Guez / AP
Raviv Drucker
Raviv Drucker

“This evening I’ll reveal information that you didn’t know,” announced then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu two years ago, at what he called a “dramatic” a press conference. “I’m revealing to you that during the investigations I demanded to confront the state’s witnesses. I wanted to look into their eyes and hurl the truth at them. I demanded a confrontation once and was refused, I demanded one a second time and was refused again.”

In recent weeks, Netanyahu has had an opportunity to look in the eye of one of those witnesses, Nir Hefetz. But, with the exception of a few hours at the start of Hefetz’s testimony, he chose not to do so. Perhaps because the testimony gave the prosecution exactly what it was looking for. Perhaps because the trial is progressing just as it would in Netanyahu’s worst nightmares.

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Those statements may sound strange. Anyone following discussion of the trial on the social media sees views that range from “the trial is collapsing” (Bibi-ists) to “What’s going on there?” (the rest of the world).

Hefetz managed to confuse everyone. On the one hand, he explained that as far as Netanyahu and his circle were concerned, Walla was theirs, open to each and every demand. On the other hand, he said repeatedly (such as at police headquarters) that he didn’t think that they were doing anything criminal and that Netanyahu didn’t think so either. The thing is that what Hefetz thinks about the validity of the charges, then or now, is unimportant. What Hefetz thinks about the headlines he arranged on the Walla news website is not dramatic either.

Hefetz was supposed to establish two things for the prosecution. First, that as far as he and Netanyahu were concerned, Walla was ready to accede to Netanyau’s demands. That was demonstrated dramatically in Hefetz’s testimony. It’s not important whether the results of those demands led to a switch from being a neutral news outlet to being a pro-Bibi one, or from being a website hostile to the prime minister to one being less hostile. Even the second version would constitute a major achievement.

Recall that an editorial policy shift of the latter kind was all that Netanyahu had asked of Arnon (Noni) Mozes, the publisher of the daily Yedioth Ahronoth. To lower the level of hostility is worth gold to a politician, and it’s a benefit that could be tantamount to a gift when it comes to the crime of bribery.

The evidence in Case 4000 is circumstantial, so the prosecution has to prove that there was only one reasonable explanation for Netanyahu’s behavior and the prosecution is demonstrating what it was. The demands made on Walla, on the one hand, and the regulatory favors its parent company, Bezeq, was given, on the other, can have only one reasonable explanation: Netanyahu understood that he was receiving more favorable coverage in exchange for providing regulatory favors.

Here too, Hefetz provided the important evidence that the prosecution needed. He recalled how Bezeq’s controlling shareholder, Shaul Elovitch, had summoned him urgently, sweating, on the verge of a heart attack, in order to arrange a meeting with the prime minister on regulatory issues worth billions to his business.

Hefetz testified (and has so far not been contradicted) that he went to Netanyahu with Elovitch’s request and that the prime minister did immediately set up a secret meeting. Hefetz himself brought Elovitch to the meeting, which Netanyahu said he “didn’t remember” during the police investigation.

Hefetz also testified to times when Yair Netanyahu entered his father’s office with a printout of a news report from Walla and shouted, “After everything you gave them, look what they’re publishing.”

The cross-examination hasn’t even tried to contradict these stories, which are slowly but surely establishing Netanyahu’s awareness of the connection between his relations with Walla and his decisions regarding Bezeq.

Netanyahu’s defense attorney is questioning Hefetz at great length about another report that appeared in Walla and another headline, as though his client has decided to use the platform of the criminal trial in order to do justice to generations of hostile media outlets. But he is not burrowing into the incredible story that Hefetz testified to, that he was repeatedly sent by Sara Netanyahu and Netanyahu junior to the director general of the Communications Ministry with orders to undertake regulatory directives.

Case 4000 is precedent-setting. The most important testimony – that of then-director general of the Communications Ministry, Shlomo Filber – has yet to be heard, but as far as the prosecution is concerned, so far everything is going according to plan: The state’s witness came to the trial, didn’t retract his evidence, wasn’t denounced as a liar and didn’t collapse. Netanyahu, in spite of all the spins, certainly realizes that.

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