Hefetz: Uneasy with Netanyahu-Walla moves, but didn’t dream was illegal

"Neither Netanyahu nor I thought we were acting in a category of something criminal", he said.

 Nir Hefetz, a former aide to Benjamin Netanyahu, arrives to testify as a star witness in the former Israeli prime minister's corruption trial at the District Court in east Jerusalem (photo credit: REUTERS)
Nir Hefetz, a former aide to Benjamin Netanyahu, arrives to testify as a star witness in the former Israeli prime minister's corruption trial at the District Court in east Jerusalem
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Prosecution star witness Nir Hefetz on Wednesday testified during cross-examination before the Jerusalem District Court that though he was uneasy with some of his and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s activities to influence Walla’s coverage, he never believed he was breaking the law.

“Ynet was so hostile to us, you could not be more hostile than Ynet was,” so he and Netanyahu were of the mentality that if Ynet was against them, it would be fair for “Walla to be for us,” said Hefetz, a former top aide to Netanyahu who flipped to being a state’s witness in February 2018.

Hefetz explained, “I never thought what I was doing as a spokesman dealing with Walla was not okay. I did not feel good about it, but I definitely didn’t think I was doing something illegal. Neither Netanyahu nor I thought we were acting in a category of something criminal.”

Further, Hefetz again verified that even Walla would have been hostile to Netanyahu if Hefetz had not acted in concert with Bezeq and Walla owner Shaul Elovitch and former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua from the top to improve news coverage from Netanyahu’s perspective.

These statements continued the trend of Hefetz undermining the prosecution’s argument in the Case 4000 Bezeq-Walla Affair, despite being their lead witness.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu at the Jerusalem District Court on November 22, 2021 (credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu at the Jerusalem District Court on November 22, 2021 (credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)

He has been testifying for around a month. His first five days of testifying for the prosecution did yield what it needed in confirming Netanyahu’s direct involvement in seeking control of Walla coverage.

However, Hefetz has said that he had close to nothing to do with the regulatory policy part of the alleged media bribery scheme.

Based on this dichotomy, the prosecution hopes that it can overcome Hefetz’s statements about Netanyahu’s intent by using the later expected testimony of former Communications Ministry director-general Shlomo Filber regarding Netanyahu’s interventions in government policy on behalf of Elovitch’s Bezeq.

According to Hefetz, his main crime was destroying his cellphone along with the Elovitch family and in coordination with Sara and Yair Netanyahu, which could have been obstructing the police investigation into Netanyahu.

During cross-examination, Hefetz also harshly condemned the police and the prosecution for illegally leaking portions of his interrogations to the public.

Disapprovingly, he told the defense that when he was a top editor at Yediot Aharonot, a reporter once came in with the entire criminal file relating to former president Moshe Katsav before Katsav’s lawyers had received it.

In addition, he said that sometimes he exaggerated to Yeshua about instructions he received, telling Yeshua a specific story was requested from the former prime minister – “the boss” – when really the request was from Sara Netanyahu.

Asked why he made this change, he said he did not want to use the phrase that it was from the “bossit” (female boss).

In contrast, he said he was completely open with Elovitch about who made the request for a specific news item.

This last point created some brief tension between Netanyahu’s defense lawyers and Elovitch’s defense lawyers, since Elovitch’s team would not want more blame placed on Elovitch.

Overall, the defense’s thrust was to try to argue that many news items came from Sara Netanyahu, not from the former prime minister.