The Tel Aviv District Court on Sunday sentenced former Ashkelon mayor Itamar Shimoni to four years in prison and fined him NIS 400,000 on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
The case was the first time that the state prosecution indicted a defendant for media bribery, a charge that has also been used against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in aspects of two of the cases against him.
Because of this link to Netanyahu’s case, the Shimoni trial has been given outsized attention.
Ultimately, Shimoni was actually acquitted of media bribery in November 2019. So the four-year sentence for other bribery and fraud charges does not necessarily help the prosecution against Netanyahu.
However, in their 2019 decision, the judges presented a detailed analysis in which they said media bribery was a valid charge in general and gave factors for proving it. Shimoni had only gotten off the hook because the period of time in which the media bribery was alleged to have occurred was so short and because there was such a small sample period of articles to analyze, they said.
In contrast, in one of the cases against Netanyahu, the prosecution has alleged that he was involved in some 150 different interventions of media influence and bribery over an extended period of time.
This means that the prosecution could actually use the decision in the Shimoni case to convict Netanyahu.
The prosecution had requested a seven-year sentence for Shimoni, but it was still satisfied with putting him behind bars for an extended period.
“The court accepted our position and determined unequivocally that public corruption crimes are an evil sickness that must be uprooted from their foundation,” the prosecution said.
The Movement for Quality Government in Israel said the case shows that local government in Israel must be much more heavily regulated to end systemic corruption issues.
Shimoni has fought every step of the way and is expected to appeal.
A conviction of Netanyahu for media bribery could fundamentally alter the relationship between the media and the government, as well as likely send the prime minister to jail and end his political career.
Still, Netanyahu’s lawyers have said no one has been convicted of media bribery to date, and it would be unfair to make the prime minister the first.
They have also said almost all of the alleged 150 incidents were carried out by middlemen or -women who were acting on their own.
Finally, his lawyers say Netanyahu has been abused by the media and that a full review of articles about him by the Walla website will show that he was not given overwhelmingly positive coverage.