Jacob Weinroth, chief lawyer for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the corruption probes against him, and possibly the country’s most storied lawyer, died from cancer on Tuesday. He was 71.
Weinroth’s death throws Netanyahu’s defense into uncertainty, both because of his unique skills, his relationships with judges and top officials like Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit and because he had shepherded the prime minister’s defense from the beginning.
Though Weinroth headed a team of other top lawyers, including his junior partner Amit Hadad, most of them quit the case to defend related clients. Hadad, while a rising star, may be viewed as too young to be the case’s lead lawyer.
While Weinroth had been sick for an extended period and appeared visibly frail in interviews he gave on the prime minister’s behalf over the past year, there had been no indication that his death was imminent.
He was supposed to start a trial representing Sara Netanyahu
on October 7, but pulled out days before, saying that his firm believed she should have reached a plea bargain.
With his death days after that trial started, questions may be raised about his reasons for pulling out, though his preference for a deal had been widely known for months beforehand.
Speaking at his funeral on Tuesday evening, the prime minister said, “This morning, we received the bitter news: Jacob Weinroth, our soul-friend and friend for 20 years, among the greatest legal scholars that have arisen in the State of Israel, died in the middle of the night. For Sara and I, the sorrow reaches shocking disbelief... The public feels that a great man with unique character traits has left us... In certain ways, no one has been his equal until now, and it is doubtful whether there will be anyone his equal in the future.”
Netanyahu remarked that as Weinroth’s health deteriorated, he tried to convince the lawyer to spend more time with his family and less time on the cases. He recalled that Weinroth objected in his usual fiery manner and stayed involved until the end, always projecting optimism about the future.
Netanyahu said that Weinroth, who had studied at the Mir Yeshiva and Tel Aviv University Law School, could be unstoppable in the courtroom with his piercing analysis of legal issues and ability to quote traditional Jewish sources.
A major earlier and prominent case of Weinroth’s was his successful acquittal of Avigdor Liberman in the 2013 “Belarus Ambassador Affair.” He also successfully convinced the state prosecution at the time to drop an even larger corruption case against Liberman.
Liberman eulogized Weinroth, saying: “If I were to characterize Jacob, I would first call him a mensch [highly moral person.] He was a human being according to the full meaning of that phrase. He was a man with wide-ranging knowledge, very adroit – not only in the law, but also in science and literature.”
During Liberman’s trial, Weinroth’s powerful presence often came into play at many key moments, including his staring down Liberman’s former deputy Danny Ayalon.
After Ayalon made a range of allegations against Liberman that other foreign ministry officials had supported, Weinroth thundered at him that really what had happened was that he had “created a conversation” with Liberman “which never happened” to help cover up the fact that his initial story to police had inconsistencies.
In one exchange between Weinroth and Ayalon, the former deputy said that he was a “law-abiding citizen” and that “I understand your job. I also had to try to defend the same accused one [Liberman] for four years” – to which Weinroth replied, “I have no doubt that you are a ‘law-abiding citizen,’ at least in the Kafkaesque understanding of those words.”
Weinroth also represented former president Ezer Weizman, minister Tzahi Hanegbi and former ministers Rafael Eitan and Meir Shitrit, as well as a variety of other major officials.
He also pleaded major constitutional cases before the High Court of Justice, including the legality of a disputed election in Beit Shemesh.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, the Israel Bar Association and a range of other ministers and public officials from both sides of the aisle also issued statements praising Weinroth’s talent and his big heart as a giver of charity.
Born in 1947 in Ansbach, Germany, Weinroth immigrated to Israel with his family at the age of two, growing up in Netanya.
He had several degrees, including a law degree and a PhD, and was ordained as a rabbi, though his career was as a lawyer. In 1972, he established the Tel Aviv firm Dr. J. Weinroth & Co. Law Office, and remained an active partner there until his death.
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