'We listened to Olmert-Sharon calls'

Former PM's secretary testifies that calls to Netanyahu also eavesdropped on.

By DAN IZENBERG
March 23, 2010 12:28
3 minute read.

If you thought you were secretly eavesdropping on a telephone conversation between, let's say, your boss and the prime minister of Israel, would you remember what the discussion was about six years later?

What about one with a former prime minister and senior Likud Party leader, for example current Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu?

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Would there be reason to dismiss your insistent claim that you had indeed listened in on these conversations if you could not remember what they were about?

That is the situation in which Pazit Ben-Yisrael found herself on Tuesday during her cross-examination in the Jerusalem District Court in the trial of former prime minister Ehud Olmert and his close aide, Shula Zaken.

The main part of Tuesday's hearing focused on the charge against Zaken that she ordered the secretaries in her office to eavesdrop on Olmert's conversations during the period in which he served as Minister of Industry, Trade and Employment under then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Ben-Yisrael served as a secretary in Olmert's office and was in charge of arranging Olmert's multi-participant, work-related office meetings.

Like two of her co-workers who testified on Monday, Ben-Yisrael had told the court that she listened in on conversations at Zaken's orders. Like them, she said that when Zaken wanted the secretaries to listen in, she would make a sign, either pointing to her ear or drawing a small circle in her coiled notebook. Also like the other two, Ben-Yisrael said she believed Olmert did not know the secretaries were listening in to his calls.

During the criminal investigation into the allegation against Zaken, Ben-Yisrael was questioned twice, in May and September 2008. On both occasions, she said she had listened in to a conversation with Sharon. During the first questioning, she also said she had listened in to a conversation between Olmert and Netanyahu. In both rounds of questioning, she told the police she listened in on no more than four or five conversations.

During the hearing, Zaken's lawyer, Micha Fettman, asked Ben-Yisrael to tell the court about the contents of Olmert's conversations with Sharon and Netanyahu. Ben-Yisrael replied that she did not remember. Fettman said it was difficult to understand how she could not remember a conversation with the prime minister. Even the head of the panel of judges, Jerusalem District Court President Moussia Arad, expressed surprise that the witness could not recall a conversation with such an important personality.

"I put it to you," Fettman concluded, after asking her the same question several times, "that you did not listen in to the conversations of Sharon or Bibi [Netanyahu.] Shula listened in to Olmert's conversations with Sharon with Olmert's permission. Had she wanted to listen in on Olmert's conversations with Bibi, she would have done so herself. Your memory is betraying you."

But Ben-Yisrael repeatedly insisted that she listened in on conversations with Sharon and Netanyahu. "I was the one who connected them and I was on the line. I listened in at [Zaken's] orders."

Fettman also argued that it was known to all the secretaries in the office and anyone else who happened to be in the office at the time that the secretaries listened in on the conversations. Zaken had no secret code and all the secretaries who testified in court said that Zaken had never instructed them not to talk about listening in on Olmert's conversations.

Furthermore, although all three had told the court Olmert did not know about the eavesdropping, it was only an assumption on their part. They did not know this to be a fact.

"All the secretaries in the office testify that there were instances of listening in [on Olmert's conversations]; all the secretaries testify that there was no secrecy about it," Fettman told reporters after the hearing. "It was known and open. They all knew it. Everything was done routinely and for work purposes. The implications of this should be one thing and one thing only. The state and district prosecutions should meet and declare, 'we made a mistake.'"


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