Netanyahu trials: Nir Hefetz expected to testify against Netanyahu

Opposition leader Netanyahu is attending the hearing in his first appearance at the court since April.

 Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd R) arrives for a court hearing on corruption charges, on November 16, 2021 in Jerusalem.  (photo credit: JACK GUEZ/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES)
Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd R) arrives for a court hearing on corruption charges, on November 16, 2021 in Jerusalem.

Nir Hefetz, a state prosecution star witness and former top aide to Benjamin Netanyahu, is expected to begin his testimony Tuesday morning against the former prime minister.

Netanyahu himself arrived at the hearing before the Jerusalem District court, for the first time since April. He was accompanied by Likud MKs Galit Distal Atbaryan, Amir Ohana and Shlomo Karhi, and his son Avner.

Some call Hefetz the most critical witness in the 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.

Shlomo Filber, the other witness and another former top Netanyahu aide, will mostly provide a narrative only on the Communications Ministry’s side of the affair, whereas Hefetz is able to connect the dots on both the ministry side and the Walla media side.

There was a last-minute twist on Monday afternoon when the defense asked the court to postpone Hefetz’s testimony by one week after the prosecution disclosed it had collected surprising new testimony from Case 1000 witness Hadas Klein.

 Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu explains why he opposes the budget. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM) Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu explains why he opposes the budget. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

The prosecution said that Klein approached them in mid-October with new evidence against Netanyahu, which multiple media reports said related to jewelry worth tens of thousands of shekels that Sara Netanyahu requested from Klein’s boss, billionaire Arnon Milchan and billionaire James Packer.

Netanyahu’s spokesman rejected the new allegations as inaccurate, and said his lawyers filed a motion to the court against the prosecution and law enforcement for alleged improper leaks to the media.

Because Klein’s testimony relates to the Illegal Gifts Affair (Case 1000) and not to Case 4000, the court may well proceed with Hefetz as planned, but the judges said they would give the defense a chance to argue the issue on Tuesday morning.

Assuming his testimony starts on Tuesday, Hefetz is expected to testify that Netanyahu gave him dozens of orders from 2013-2016 to instruct former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua to direct coverage as the former prime minister wanted. Furthermore, he will likely say that Netanyahu gave him orders to ensure that Communications Ministry policy benefited Bezeq and Walla owner Shaul Elovitch.

According to the amended indictment, Netanyahu, through middleman Zeev Rubinstein, made no fewer than six demands from January 17 to 19, 2013 – just before the January 22 election – for Elovitch to influence media coverage positively for him and negatively relating to Naftali Bennett and the Bayit Yehudi Party.

By March 2014, Hefetz, Sara Netanyahu and the former prime minister himself got much more personally involved in passing on messages.

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. He served not only as Netanyahu’s spokesman for years, but often his intermediary for complex tasks and cleanups in gray areas, including dealing with sensitive issues relating to Sara.

Until February 2018, Hefetz maintained his and Netanyahu’s innocence. But once he was arrested, held in detention and pressured on a variety of fronts – including an alleged romantic connection to a woman who was not his wife (whose identity is under gag order) – Hefetz 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 over the alleged romantic connection.

The stress this caused Hefetz was so acute that in November 2019, he yelled at the judges, “You can just kill me!” during a hearing on whether to remove the gag order.

Hefetz stomped around the hallways of the courtroom trying to flee a wave of media attention, his face full of anger and despair.

The prosecution has said that even if there are issues regarding Hefetz’s testimony, there is still tremendous supporting evidence, and that he is an irreplaceable witness for tying together all the different aspects of the case.

In mid-September 2020, the prosecution had denied it had any documents pertaining to conflict within the Police Investigation Department (PID) about how Hefetz had been treated during his interrogation.

Subsequently, after Channel 12’s Amit Segal revealed one such document, the prosecution did a 180-degree turn and said that good-faith miscommunications within the PID had led to the document going astray.

Former senior PID official Dubi Shertzer has claimed that he complained to his superiors in PID about police investigators’ alleged abusive treatment of Hefetz.

Segal claimed that either PID or the prosecution or some combination covered up the complaint, and failed to disclose the complaint to defense lawyers until Segal broke the story.

The prosecution’s later explanation on why it thought it did not have the document could be seen as trying to cover for the PID, or just incompetence, or a result of interpersonal rivalries.

Shertzer and then-deputy PID head Moshe Saada are known to be on poor terms with PID Chief Karen Ben Menachem.

The prosecution has told the court that almost all of the information under gag order had nothing to do with Netanyahu, and that parties who wanted the information only sought it to intimidate Hefetz not to testify.

The Jerusalem Post learned that the other woman was not brought by the police for the primary purpose of pressuring Hefetz to become a state’s witness, but rather was brought to the police station just as Hefetz’s wife was brought there – as part of standard police tactics to learn everything relevant about a suspect.

Police intelligence regarding the other woman suggested she might possess relevant electronic evidence about Hefetz and Case 4000.

The Post has also learned that there was a court-signed warrant for searching the person’s residence.

Law enforcement will need to admit at trial that once the other woman was at the police station, they instigated a sort of confrontation between her and Hefetz.

However, their narrative will be that this was legal to try to get Hefetz to admit the truth, even if it was unpleasant for Hefetz.

They will also highlight that Hefetz waited another two weeks after the confrontation with the other woman before deciding to turn state’s witness.

Law enforcement might point out that Netanyahu’s top aide has said that when he turned state’s witness, it was not because of this other woman but essentially to avoid jail time.

Hefetz is expected to testify that a few days before a major November 28, 2014, meeting between Netanyahu and Elovitch, he showed the former prime minister proposals that Elovitch gave Hefetz. Elovitch wanted to gut Communications Ministry director-general Berger’s conditions for approving the Yes-Bezeq merger, which Elovitch desperately wanted.

Hefetz will also likely testify that Netanyahu requested that he carefully smuggle Elovitch into the meeting with him in a way that would cover up that they had met.

Both Hefetz and Filber will likely testify that on December 9, 2014, Netanyahu appointed Eitan Tzafrir as chief of staff at the Communications Ministry to act as his long arm.

Berger has testified that he repeatedly stuck to his guns on the conditions for a Yes-Bezeq merger and ignored Tzafrir, whom he said was advocating problematic policies.

Multiple witnesses are expected to testify that this made Elovitch furious, which he asked Hefetz to pass on to the prime minister.

The indictment alleges that on May 17, 2015, as soon as Netanyahu formed a new government, he fired Berger and replaced him with Filber to carry out Elovitch’s wishes regarding Bezeq.