Netanyahu’s judges lost patience with the defense - analysis

A one-year trial could mean Netanyahu is on his last legs no matter what happens with coalition machinations, whereas a three-year trial means he could continue to be the major player.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen as he arrives for a court hearing at the District Court in Jerusalem on April 05, 2021, PM Netanyahu is on trial on criminal allegations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. (photo credit: OREN BEN HAKOON/POOL)
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen as he arrives for a court hearing at the District Court in Jerusalem on April 05, 2021, PM Netanyahu is on trial on criminal allegations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
(photo credit: OREN BEN HAKOON/POOL)
Day three of the trial was the day that the judges lost patience with the defense lawyers.
This is not only important in the momentum of the trial regarding who feels ahead and is getting to frame the trial through their narrative.
It also has major implications for how long the trial will run – which has consequences for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the whole country’s future.
A one-year trial could mean Netanyahu is on his last legs no matter what happens with coalition machinations, whereas a three-year trial means he could continue to be the major player, or at least a major player for the foreseeable future.
Part of what was so noteworthy about the judges moving closer to the presentation that prosecutor Yehudit Tirosh and former Walla CEO and witness Ilan Yeshua had in mind was how radically different it was from the first two days.
In the first two days of the public corruption trial of Netanyahu and Bezeq and Walla owner Shaul Elovitch, lawyers Boaz Ben Zur (for Netanyahu) and Jacques Chen (for Elovitch) seemed to be dominating.
Michal Rozin, representing Iris Elovitch, was also formidable the few times she spoke, but kept a much lower profile.
Ben Zur and Chen seemed to object at will to questions by Tirosh and answers by Yeshua – and with a frequency rarely seen in legal proceedings.
In the second day of the trial, of the six-and-a-half hours meant for Yeshua to testify, he probably testified for only one to two hours, due to interruptions from the defense.
Time after time, Yeshua sat there in silence as the lawyers fought over the arcane rules of legal procedure, and was even kicked out of the room if there was a fear that hearing their debate could prejudice his testimony.
And when Chen rose in a show of force and thundered away at Tirosh or the judges about alleged sudden improper surprises by the prosecution, the court seemed intimidated.
This was especially true when he threatened to appeal to the High Court of Justice when the court did not rule for the defense on some of their motions to block certain questions and disqualify evidence.
There was an extended discussion where the judges appeared to be trying to negotiate with Chen to offer him various concessions to get him not to file an appeal.
Not that the defense lawyers did not take up around 90 minutes to two hours of Wednesday debating legal issues with Tirosh and the judges. But the judges asserted themselves and started to quickly brush off some challenges.

IF PRESIDING Judge Rivka Friedman-Feldman had been the main talker since the first pretrial hearing in May 2020, and judges Moshe Bar-Am and Oded Shaham had been silent, Bar-Am has become the new star judge.
If Friedman-Feldman can be characterized by her low calming tone, Bar-Am can be far more gruff and aggressive.
Friedman-Feldman gingerly asked several times if the defense lawyers could reduce the number of interruptions and objections to Yeshua’s testimony.
But it was Bar-Am who said loudly and impatiently “You continue to try to manage the prosecution’s direct testimony,” and demanded that they stop standing up with so many objections.
Another comment he made was, “You wasted so much time.”
Moreover, the next time or two after that when a defense lawyer tried to object, Bar-Am was quick to cut them off. He told them impatiently to sit down instead of at least letting them finish a two-minute speech as Friedman-Feldman might do.
Once Bar-Am became more assertive, Friedman-Feldman also started cutting into the defense lawyers mid-speech, which she had been loath to do for the first two days.
At one point, when a defense lawyer said he was worried the judges might miss a point in Yeshua’s police testimony which Tirosh had skipped over, Friedman-Feldman quickly deadpanned, “we all know how to read.”
Further, the judge seemed to warm to Yeshua on his third day of testimony, making jokes about some of the shorthand expressions Yeshua used in his texts like “money time” – referring to the idea that time is valuable because time is money.

TIROSH, who sometimes seemed flustered by the defense lawyers’ interruptions on the first two days, also seemed to relish the greater support from the judges.
Some objections she simply ignored, and others she seemed to wave off lightly without much effort.
Netanyahu lawyer Ben Zur eventually mostly stopped objecting, while Elovitch lawyer Chen reduced his objections and their length.
If the defense hoped to draw out Yeshua’s direct testimony for two months, they may find that he might finish in a period of weeks, as scheduled by the prosecution.
At that point, the defense will have greater control since they manage cross-examination, but every lawyer has a limited amount of slack per trial which a judge gives them before cracking down.
It is possible they may have just spent some of that upfront before even getting to the cross-examination portion of the trial.
As far as the judges are concerned, they may have been more worried about the defense lawyers filing an appeal or creating a later basis to appeal during the first two days.
However, seeing that the threatened appeal was not made, the judges, especially Bar-Am, may have decided that now they can get the trial moving.
The prosecution has many more star witnesses to get to – and these initial battles could set the tone for the next one to three years.