Bibi draws a rough hand on judges who will decide his fate - analysis

Judges Rivkah Friedman-Feldman and Oded Shaham are both considered on the tougher end of judges in terms of convictions and sentencing.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a cabinet meeting, December 2019. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a cabinet meeting, December 2019.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would have been in an even worse situation if his trial were set for Tel Aviv, but among the Jerusalem District Court judges he could have drawn, the three he drew are considered tough overall.
Judges Rivkah Friedman-Feldman and Oded Shaham are both considered on the tougher end of judges in terms of convictions and sentencing.
Judge Moshe Bar’am does not have much of a record to draw from on white collar crime, such that he is viewed neutrally. But he may also be more likely to defer to the other two judges who are more experienced in this area.
Friedman-Feldman is by far the most well-known, having served on the panel which convicted former prime minister Ehud Olmert in the Talansky Affair retrial.
The 2015 retrial involved Friedman-Feldman and two other judges hearing new evidence based on recordings, a journal and a testimony by former top Olmert aide-turned-state-witness Shula Zaken against Olmert. None of that evidence was available for his original Talansky Affair trial, in which he was acquitted in July 2012.
The underlying allegations were that Olmert illegally received and concealed over $600,000 funds in envelopes from New York businessman Morris Talansky between 1993 and 2002, with the case itself dating back to 2008.
Throughout the trial, while the other two judges were active and asked many questions, Friedman-Feldman remained mysteriously silent.
The reason for her silence was revealed when she wrote a separate opinion explaining her reasons for convicting Olmert.
She wrote that she agreed with the conviction, but went a step further, saying that she would have even convicted Olmert in the first trial had she been on the original panel.
According to Friedman-Feldman, all of the new Shula Zaken recordings and journal evidence were icing on the cake.
This explained her silence during the trial; as far as she was concerned, the retrial was decided before it started.
This was a major turn of bad luck for Olmert as compared to Judge Mousia Arad, from the 2012 trial, who was much more sympathetic to his case – and no doubt impacted the other judges as well.
Friedman-Feldman also voted with the panel to give Olmert an eight month jail sentence, despite his lawyers request for no jail time and a mere six months community service.
Backing up their request for leniency, Olmert and his team had rolled out letters to the court from former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former Mossad head Meir Dagan to describe his contributions to the state’s security and the state’s image on the world stage.
Friedman-Feldman and the other judges did recognize these claims, including Olmert’s decades of working “nights as if they were days for the sake of the public,” and specifically his helping “even the weaker sectors” of society.
Next, Friedman-Feldman and the panel acknowledged the difficult impact of a jail sentence on Olmert’s family and him personally as he nears age 70.
But Netanyahu needs to worry about Friedman-Feldman.
The prosecution had asked for a harsh sentence, saying that Olmert’s actions were “causing a loss of faith of the public” in government, and encouraging it to think that “everyone is corrupt and there is nothing we can do.”
After all of her and the panel’s sympathetic words for Olmert’s contributions to the country, she and the panel echoed the prosecution’s points in explaining why Olmert must face jail time.
If Netanyahu is ever convicted and must decide whether to admit fault, he should remember that Friedman-Feldman and the panel said they were stricter with Olmert because he never “accepted responsibility for his actions.”
In 2001, Friedman-Feldman was part of a panel of judges which convicted former defense minister Yitzhak Mordechai of sexual harassment and assault.
However, whereas the majority of the judges decided to give Mordechai only a suspended sentence, Friedman-Feldman voted in the minority to give him actual jail time.
One major case where Friedman-Feldman voted on the lenient side of a split in a three judge panel was the case against the murderers of 16-year-old east Jerusalem Shuafat resident Muhammad Abu Khdeir.
In 2016, Friedman-Feldman and another judge voted in the majority to sentence two minors – who actively aided the primary killer of Abu Khdeir but did not do the actual killing – to 21 years in prison. One dissenting judge voted for a life sentence for the two minors.
Yet, this was a case of violence by minors, so it is not clear that it tells us much about Friedman-Feldman in white collar crimes cases by adults.
Judge Shaham’s most noted ruling on public corruption was when he voted in the minority to convict Likud minister Tzachi Hanegbi of corruption charges, while the majority of the panel of judges convicted him of only perjury.
So Shaham was the strictest of the three judges on the panel.
Shaham was in the majority in framing Hanegbi’s perjury conviction as carrying a finding of moral turpitude which impacted his political career years into the future.
Whereas Judge Bar’am has less white collar criminal law experience, he was on the panel of judges that gave Daniel Nachmani a life sentence in April 2019 for the killing of Noah Eyal.
All three judges were promoted from the magistrate’s court to the district court in 2012.
Jerusalem District Court President Aharon Farkash chose them over himself and his three most senior deputies due to a combination of already being committed to other high-profile cases, impending retirement and in one case, a lack of criminal law experience.
Most legal officials did not want to comment on the judges due to the sensitivity of the issue.
But top lawyer Zion Amir told Army Radio that Friedman-Feldman and Shaham were tough on defendants and no lawyer has come forth publicly to say that any of the judges are considered lenient.
The court will now set a date for the start of Netanyahu’s trial.