Nir Hefetz, the prosecution’s star witness, said his police interrogation included attempts to destroy his family, as former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s defense team cross-examined him before the Jerusalem District Court on Wednesday.
Hefetz had served as a top aide to Netanyahu for years until 2017, but was flipped by the police into being their key witness against Netanyahu after 15 days of interrogation and detention.
As part of his strategy to undermine the testimony of Hefetz against Netanyahu as coerced and manufactured, Defense lawyer Boaz Ben Tzur was trying to emphasize for a second day how allegedly abusive the police treatment of Hefetz was.
Though Hefetz has been providing the prosecution with extremely damaging testimony against Netanyahu over five hearings, he is clearly still furious at how he was treated, and was more than ready to give the defense what it wanted about his treatment.
Ben Tzur displayed multiple jarring videos of Hefetz as he was being interrogated by police, with an interrogator in one video saying to Hefetz, “The explosion which will take over your life in the coming days will break apart your world.
“We are 433, our methods are the most similar to the Shin Bet [Israel Security Agency]. Anything you can imagine we might do – will happen. I am not lying to you, Nir. Your kids will not want to have anything to do with you, nor your wife. The consequences beyond jail and the media – your family unit is in danger,” continued the interrogator.
Asked about the video, Hefetz responded, “The threat was clear. If I did not provide the story [they wanted], they would threaten my family.”
In another video, the interrogator called Hefetz’s wife and told her that he would be freed the next day from eight days of detention (when in fact his detention was extended for another week).
Responding to the policeman’s call to his wife, in the interrogation video Hefetz then breaks down into tears and repeatedly holds his head in his hands and starts complaining hysterically that the police are tormenting his family.
In court, Hefetz closed his eyes during the video replay, but then responded that this was the only time he cried in 15 days and that it was because the police involved his family.
“This was what broke me, them playing with my family,” he said.
Moreover, Hefetz said, “They yelled at me in a way that was unconscionable. And it did not end... it did not end. There is no way to comprehend this kind of an interrogation. It torments you even after you have been freed.”
Next, Hefetz described being deprived of food by the police, especially during the first day of being questioned.
He said he was arrested at 6 a.m. and that the police and the Israel Prisons Service said he just happened not to get food the first day because of the times of day he was moved around and lack of coordination between the two organizations.
In one comedic moment, Hefetz said, “The only good thing that came out of this was I finally lost weight.... For 30 years I failed at losing weight, but I lost a ton of weight during those two weeks.”
Earlier, about one hour of the cross-examination had taken place behind closed doors.
On Tuesday, the prosecution request for the entire cross-examination to be behind closed doors was rejected by the court, but the judges left open the possibility of releasing select aspects of the cross-examination related to Hefetz’s personal life, which are under a gag order, behind closed doors.
So far, about 80%-90% of the cross-examination has been public. The media was present with a few select portions on Tuesday and Wednesday behind closed doors.
Despite providing the defense with ammunition against the police, during his testimony for the prosecution Hefetz said that his maltreatment was not his primary motivation for turning on Netanyahu, and that his stance as a state witness was letting him tell the truth.
Sources have told The Jerusalem Post that the trial itself will include hearing from the police who questioned Hefetz. But regardless of how he was treated, if he is saying now that in pointing the finger at Netanyahu he is telling the truth, that is what is relevant.