Finally, a court decision that favors Netanyahu - analysis

Nothing about Monday’s ruling changes indications received by the 'Post' that Mandelblit will indict the prime minister in Case 4000, the "Bezeq-Walla Affair."

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Almost all of the commentary about when and how Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit would rule regardingPrime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s public corruption cases being connected to the electoral or government-formation calendars has been wrong.

If Mandelblit has been waiting for a key moment that might guide his hand, it was a court ruling on Monday about Ashkelon Mayor Itamar Shimoni.
Readers are probably scratching their heads about who Shimoni is and why a court ruling about him should determine the prime minister’s fate.
Without digging deep into Shimoni’s case, the prosecution’s decision to indict him in February 2017 was the first time in Israeli history that a public official was indicted for “media bribery.”
Until then, bribery usually meant businesspeople bribing public officials with money (sometimes in envelopes) in exchange for help with construction approvals or other decisions by public authorities.
One of the biggest arguments that Netanyahu’s lawyers have rightly made to derail the key case against him, Case 4000 (the Bezeq-Walla Affair), as well as Case 2000 (the Yediot Ahronot-Israel Hayom Affair), is that “media bribery” is not an offense, or comes with too many evidentiary and public policy problems to bring as a charge.
How could Mandelblit indict Netanyahu for a nonexistent crime for which no one had ever previously been indicted?
Wasn’t such conduct proof of a political crusade: bring down Netanyahu even if new nonexistent crimes must be invented?
If not for Shimoni, this would be a fair question.
However, Mandelblit and the prosecution have answered that Netanyahu is not being singled out.
They admit that “media bribery” does not have a long history, but they say they are just applying the same law to Netanyahu as they did to Shimoni.
Sure, there might not be a long history of media bribery charges they would acknowledge, but that had more to do with media bribery itself growing as a phenomenon.
The problem with all of this was that no court had actually convicted anyone for media bribery, and validated the prosecution’s theory that it could be a crime.
Enter Monday’s verdict.
The court acquitted Shimoni of media bribery even as it convicted him of other bribery and fraud charges. Overall, this court result did not do Mandelblit any favors in paving his way toward indicting Netanyahu. However, the court did not simply acquit Shimoni, rather it also left the door open to the possibility of convictions for media bribery in other future cases.
It performed a careful analysis of whether and when media bribery could lead to a conviction.
The court concluded that media bribery could lead to a conviction, but that in the specific Shimoni case, the period of time in which the media bribery was alleged to have occurred was so short and had such a small sample period of articles to analyze that there just was not enough proof.
Where does this leave Mandelblit and Netanyahu?
It certainly helps Netanyahu more. Now he can say that the only theoretical case of media bribery failed, and that if he is convicted, he will be the first – a sort of being singled out. His lawyers can say that even if the idea is theoretically possible, any evidence should be judged with higher than usual scrutiny, resulting in a likely acquittal as occurred in the Shimoni case.
At the same time, it added a more solid foundation to the possibility of Mandelblit indicting the prime minister for media bribery: the attorney-general can now cite a court decision that media bribery is a valid charge, and that it merely needs to be proven with sufficient evidence like any other charge.
Mandelblit can then say that he has far more proof of Netanyahu’s participation in media bribery than the court had in the Shimoni case.
In this way, the court ruling was far from a complete loss for Mandelblit. At the end of the day, the ruling probably was only going to boost Mandelblit a bit in whatever direction he wanted to go.
As The Jerusalem Post has received consistent indications that Mandelblit will indict Netanyahu in Case 4000, nothing about Monday’s ruling changed that.
That said, Netanyahu had another win on Monday.
Though Mandelblit will likely not hesitate to indict Netanyahu despite the mixed ruling on Monday, the judges who oversee Netanyahu’s trial will now be hard pressed to render a conviction.
Monday was the best legal day Netanyahu has had in a long time.