Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s body language while attending the opening statement of his public corruption trial said a lot about why he might not have wanted to stick around to hear the first witness.
He only stayed for a short part of the six-and-a-half-hour drama – and was mostly still, emotionless and with his arms crossed in a defensive position.
Unlike defendant Iris Elovitch – who, mid-testimony, accused former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua of being a liar after hearing the prosecution recite many of the codewords she and others had used for her husband – Netanyahu appeared to wish to give off the vibe of being impervious.
But prosecutor Liat Ben-Ari is not a new character in this story and did not get into the harsher codewords. She has been around for years and is a summarizer of the evidence, not a direct participant.
Netanyahu might have had a harder time staying calm while listening to Yeshua refer to him as “Kim” – as in like North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.
The context was that Yeshua and former senior Walla editor Avi Alkilai used this reference to comfort themselves when they performed the dirty work of allegedly tilting coverage in Netanyahu’s favor based on instructions from his messengers.
Additional context included Bezeq and Walla owner Shaul Elovitch joking that “I would have to kill you” if Yeshua did not “fix” certain aspects of the website’s coverage which the Netanyahus objected to.
It might also have been difficult to hear Yeshua talk about being told by Netanyahu’s messengers that it would be “even worse to upset [Netanyahu’s wife,] Sara, than to upset him.”
This reference was to the voluminous efforts made by Yeshua and others at Walla to give positive coverage not only to the prime minister, but also his wife, as well as to help efforts to undermine Sara’s enemies, like the former prime minister’s house manager Meni Naftali.
At times, when Yeshua and Netanyahu’s messengers or others at Walla spoke in code about “the boss,” they were talking about Elovitch.
But at other times, they were referring to the prime minister himself in caricature form that portrayed him and Sara spending all day poring over each Walla article, then diving into “fixing” even tiny minutiae or adding 10 photos of Sara instead of the eight photos that were posted.
There was an implication throughout that the prime minister hates any implication that Sara is the true boss.
They also referred to “the child waking up and making problems” – which was Yair Netanyahu joining the game of giving Walla instructions for tilting coverage.
Other shorthand messages which Yeshua discussed were ones from multiple Netanyahu messengers which displayed only a question mark and no text or reference.
He said this occurred later in the four-year period of systematic interference with Walla coverage when he knew what kinds of articles to look for on his own, either to “fix” them or remove them.
Sometimes, Yeshua said that he rushed to remove articles that were critical of Netanyahu without even being told to do so, or vetoed coverage of certain areas before it could lead to an article, wanting to avoid a torrent of attacks from the messengers.
After he performed the Netanyahu messengers’ bidding, he said he was restored to good graces and was complimented in Hebrew with phrases like “you are a king” or “fantastic!”
All of this might have been difficult for Netanyahu to hear while remaining calm and impervious, as if still on top of the world. But his absence only delays the inevitable.
At some point, he will take the stand and be mercilessly cross-examined by the prosecution.
He will not be able to cut them off, change the subject or walk out of the room.
Netanyahu will be like any other defendant.
He may also be required to hear the testimony of witnesses – who, unlike Yeshua, interacted with him directly and directly accused him of bribery and other crimes.
At these points, instead of a carefully managed Facebook response later in the day, we may finally see cracks in the armor.