What are a couple of NIS 359,000 prepared meals between friends?
That was the main message of Sara Netanyahu’s lawyer, Yossi Cohen, at the opening of her trial for fraud and breach of trust in Jerusalem’s Magistrate’s Court on Sunday.
What is remarkable is how consistent this line of defense has been, despite the fact that along the way the country’s arch-conservative Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit got behind the case.
The next noteworthy item from the opening day was who was not present in the courtroom.
Jacob Weinroth, arguably Israel’s most famous lawyer – currently representing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the defense counsel who got Avigdor Liberman acquitted in 2013 – quit the case shortly before opening day.
Weinroth had hoped to cut a plea bargain and avoid going to trial. But Sara Netanyahu wasn’t amenable. His absence lowered the tension in the courtroom.
Cohen attacked the prosecution, as well as other top defense lawyers. But at times affable, he can also wheel, deal, smile, flatter and kibbitz. At one point he told Judge Avital Chen that he and lead prosecutor Erez Padan were buddies outside the courtroom.
Weinroth almost never smiles in public, and his attacks on the prosecution often sound like a declaration of a fight to the death.
Padan and his co-counsel, Jenny Avni, may consider themselves lucky.
Neither of them have the charisma or combativeness of Uri Korb, the prosecutor who famously took down Ehud Olmert and his star team of defense lawyers.
The prosecutors were polite and professional, but Cohen will likely get his way with them, perhaps even more than Weinroth would have.
The bad news for Sara Netanyahu is that she herself is finally exposed.
Having watched her testify in other civil cases, it was no surprise to The Jerusalem Post
at how uncomfortable and tense she looked as she sat behind her legal team for the 45 minutes of pre-trial arguments.
If her husband testifies in court someday, he will probably, at least publicly, only show calm.
Sara Netanyahu barely smiled at all. She constantly searched the courtroom, seemingly out of fear that some unexpected surprise was waiting for her.
The prime minister’s wife has not stood up well as a witness in past legal proceedings. Nor did she exude confidence on Sunday.
Perhaps the most important figure in the courtroom was hidden modestly in the corner: Ezra Seidoff.
Seidoff was the senior prime minister’s office official who oversaw the alleged NIS 359,000 fraud and directed Sara’s staff about how to cover up the alleged misuse of state funds to order food from swank Jerusalem restaurants, even as a full-time chef was on staff at the prime minister’s residence.
His lawyer was allowed to speak for a few minutes on the sidelines of the main event, mostly complaining that his client had been unfairly dragged into this because of proximity to Sara.
But he did very little and also interacted only briefly with Sara, who was seated almost directly in front of him.
To the extent he was visible, he looked downtrodden and unsure.
That would make sense for someone who so far is trying to stay in the Netanyahu family’s good graces by taking hits for some additional fraud charges which otherwise might be attributed to Sara – but who also might flip to help the prosecution down-the-road if he starts to look at jail time.
Like many first days, the stage was set and hints were dropped. But the main drama is yet to come in a fraud trial expected to last months.
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