Supreme Court lets police check phones of PM’s PR people

Golan and Orich are senior public relations advisers to Netanyahu, giving the ruling out-sized political significance.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu with members of his legal team at the beginning of his corruption trial at the Jerusalem District Court in May. (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu with members of his legal team at the beginning of his corruption trial at the Jerusalem District Court in May.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)
The Supreme Court ended a yearlong controversy on Tuesday, ruling that police can review the contents on cellphones belonging to top aides of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who allegedly intimidated a key witness in the bribery cases against him.
The aides include Netanyahu’s top public-relations strategists, Ofer Golan and Yonatan Urich, as well as two others, giving the ruling significant political prominence.
Police suspect Golan, Urich and others of allegedly sending staff members with a megaphone to drive past the house of Shlomo Filber, a former confidant of the prime minister who has turned state’s witness against him, broadcasting intimidating messages designed to get him to recant his accusations that Netanyahu committed bribery in Case 4000, also known as the Bezeq-Walla Affair.
The case could have significant electoral consequences since Netanyahu has made the credibility of the police and the legal establishment a focus of his campaign.
If the two officials get off with no charges, law enforcement will view that as a blow to their efforts to protect Case 4000 state’s witnesses from intimidation, which is the charge being considered against Golan, Urich and the two other aides.
The incident dates back to 2019. It made its way to the Supreme Court once before. It was sent back to the Magistrate’s Court and then was brought back to the country’s highest court once again for a final decision.
On December 25, 2019, the two advisers had obtained their first win when Supreme Court Justice Yosef Elron sent the case back to the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, leaving open the possibility of denying the police access to evidence from their cellphones.
Elron ordered the lower court to decide whether the basis of the police’s current application to review evidence on the two officials’ cellphones was based on earlier police actions accessing those cellphones without a proper legal basis.
If the police’s current application was based on the prior misconduct, their application would be denied, he said, but if the court found that they had an independent basis for searching the cellphones beyond their past misconduct, the cellphone searching could go forward.
In addition, the case implicates the broader debate about police interrogation tactics and the ongoing verbal war between Netanyahu and the legal establishment.
In November 2019, the Tel Aviv District Court endorsed allowing the police to hack the Netanyahu advisers’ cellphones to probe for evidence that they tried to intimidate Filber, hoping he would retract his finger-pointing at the prime minister.
Representing Netanyahu and his advisers, Amit Hadad on December 15 told Elron the police must not get away with allegedly abusing the rights of Netanyahu’s advisers.
While Justices Noam Sohlberg and George Kara ruled in the majority against Netanyahu's aides, Justice Hanan Melcer voted in the minority to deny the police request to review their cellphones due to the police misconduct.
Golan and the other Netanyahu aides responded that Melcer had gotten the issue right and that they would request a broader Supreme Court panel to try to override the 2-1 Tuesday ruling that went against them.