At the Holyland trial yesterday, even the judge was asking the “audience”
(attorneys, witnesses, reporters) if a trial or a talk show was taking
With the circus atmosphere that took over the case when the
cross-examination of the state’s main witness started, it would be easy for
observers to forget that they are watching one of the most dramatic corruption
trials in Israeli history.
The weeks of listening to the state list in a
monotone a line of documents and alleged illegal checks and bribes are
Instead, shouting matches and finger-pointing between the state
witness, known only as “S.D.” under a gag order, the defense attorneys, and at
times, the judge are now part of the daily proceedings.
defense attorney for businessman Hillel Cherny, asked S.D. every question
during the cross-examination as if he were a child and a liar. On top of that he
took pains to emphasize that S.D. was an outcast and a turncoat against all of
the other defendants in the room who had been his friends and business partners
for years. It worked like a charm.
S.D. has made it clear that this case
was about two things for him: getting paid and achieving both respect and
vengeance. Although the case has huge implications for the state, for those
involved, the trial is personal.
The defense attorneys’ treatment of S.D.
appears to have unnerved him and cause him to frequently lose his train of
thought or go “off message” in his responses.
Frequently all of the
defendants and their attorneys – which could be up to 30 people and the majority
of those present – laughed at his answers to questions.
You could see his
shame and the sense of futility in his eyes. He joined forces with the state to
bring these men, the defendants, to their knees, but it is clear he is far less
confident now than on day one, when he made headlines by mentioning former prime
minister Ehud Olmert and “bribe” in the same sentence.
The laughter in
the courtroom was at times so frequent and loud that the judge, who runs a
mostly hands-off and laid-back trial, got animated and accused the laughing
audience of turning the trial into a circus.
But Aderet was not to be
deterred from his campaign.
After a series of particularly condescending
questions and characterizations, the state attorney – who was virtually silent
throughout the cross-examination – objected for the first-time that Aderet was
taking S.D.’s answers out of context.
Aderet thundered back at her that
S.D. was a liar and was taking everything out of context, until the judge
Aderet had a heated exchange with the judge, until he
essentially countered the rhetoric with “you want to keep messing with me?”
Aderet briefly backed down for a few minutes.
In addition to the angry
exchanges, observers were kept entertained by the continuing exploits of Shula
Zaken, Olmert’s former bureau chief. At one point she entered into the back of a
court cafe during a recent lunch recess to schmooze with the workers and check
what food they had behind the counter that wasn’t available to the general
Every defendant present had their own way of passing time during
Some tables sat three defendants who diligently played with
their smartphones, dutifully ignoring the proceedings.
Only one defendant
was paying rapt attention. He took over an entire table and placed several
well-organized folders in clearly delineated stacks, with a sophisticated
color-coding system for keeping track of the testimony.
personal tone of the trial will likely continue through cross-examination, but
the state will probably get its own chance to voice some anger and fury once the
defendants begin to take the stand.
At that point, the laughter on the
side of the defense will probably have died down.