Nir Hefetz, a state prosecution star witness and former top aide to Benjamin Netanyahu, will begin his testimony against the former prime minister on November 16, based on a decision of the Jerusalem District Court on Wednesday.
Some call Hefetz the most critical witness in the whole trial because he is one of only two witnesses who can point the finger directly at Netanyahu on media bribery charges for Case 4000, the Bezeq-Walla Affair.
While Shlomo Filber, the other witness and another former top Netanyahu aide, will mostly provide narrative only on the Communications Ministry side of the affair, Hefetz is able to connect the dots on both the ministry side and the Walla media side.
Put simply, Hefetz is expected to testify that Netanyahu gave him orders dozens of times over several years in 2013-2016 to order former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua to direct coverage the way the former prime minister wanted – and that Netanyahu gave him orders to ensure that Communications Ministry policy benefited Bezeq and Walla owner Shaul Elovitch.
While there have been many important witnesses to date, especially Yeshua and former Communications Ministry director-general Avi Berger, Hefetz was closer to the prime minister than any of them.
Hefetz served for years not only as Netanyahu’s spokesman, but often as his intermediary for complex tasks and cleanups in gray areas, including dealing with sensitive issues relating to Sara Netanyahu.
Until February 2018, Hefetz maintained his and Netanyahu’s innocence.
However, once he was arrested, held in detention and pressured on a variety of fronts, including regarding his personal life, he agreed to a plea deal to testify against Netanyahu in exchange for immunity.
Netanyahu has attacked Hefetz as a turncoat who cannot be trusted and was simply parroting what the prosecution asked of him to save his own skin.
There have been heated debates between the prosecution and the defense over how Hefetz was interrogated and whether the defense can pierce a gag order on pressure the police may have put on him regarding aspects of his personal life.
During one hearing, Hefetz expressed fury at Netanyahu supporters who he said were trying to destroy him for telling the truth.
The prosecution has said that even if there are issues with aspects of Hefetz’s testimony, there is tremendous supporting evidence, and he is an irreplaceable witness for tying together all the different aspects of the case.
Also on Wednesday, the cross-examination of Berger wrapped up with some additional tactical victories for the defense.
After a series of questions, the defense elicited admissions from Berger and from prosecutor Yehudit Tirosh that there was no evidence that Netanyahu specifically fired him because of Berger’s opposition to the Bezeq-Yes merger or Berger’s support for reforms helping Bezeq’s competitors.
The defense used these admissions to claim that there is no evidence that Netanyahu illegally interfered in communications policy.
However, Tirosh responded that the prosecution is making a more nuanced argument.
According to Tirosh, Netanyahu did not need to be familiar with all of the specific communications policy issues to break the law.
Rather, she said, Netanyahu knew that Elovitch wanted Berger fired for a failure to cooperate on various issues, and wanted to please Elovitch, regardless of what the issues were, in order to maintain his control of Walla media coverage.
Further, the prosecution will likely argue later that when Netanyahu installed Filber, he instructed him to move forward with the policies Elovitch wanted in place, regardless of whether they were correct policies for the country.
Filber will testify only later in the trial, but has already told police that these were the orders he was given by Netanyahu.
Next week, Competition Authority official Dror Shtraum and former deputy director-general for finance of EUROCOM Felix Cohen are expected to testify relating to communications policy issues.
Following their testimony, the trial will break for a week so that both sides can prepare for Hefetz’s testimony.