The conversation that may lead to a Netanyahu conviction - Analysis

Netanyahu can note that Walla! still published many negative stories about him, or argue that Elovitch wanted to please Netanyahu for his own reasons unrelated to Bezeq.

(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
In every war, sporting competition and legal trial, there are tipping points where the opposing sides unleash the best that they have and one side decisively gains the upper-hand.
In the somewhat distant future, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, by plea bargain or trial, will likely be convicted in the Bezeq-Walla! Affair. And if he is, the tipping point will probably be what emerged from Tuesday night’s Channel 12 report of what his former aide, Shlomo Filber, told police.
Until now, we knew from Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit that the prime minister would likely be indicted, with the timing expected to be by December.
However, Netanyahu has a strong chance of getting Mandelblit to drop any indictment in Case 2000, the Yediot Ahronot-Yisrael Hayom Affair, probably has a 50/50 chance of beating the charges in Case 1000, the Illegal Gifts Affair, and has a series of real defenses even in Case 4000.
There are two main prongs to Case 4000.
One prong is the allegation that Netanyahu directed Filber to push through a series of policies to help his ally, Shaul Elovitch – the owner of both Bezeq and Walla! – even though the rank and file government experts opposed the policies as bad for the country.
Mandelblit estimates that these policies made Elovitch NIS 1.8 billion.
The second prong is the allegation that the prime minister directed top aide Nir Hefetz, and others, to get him positive coverage from Elovitch’s Walla! in exchange for his help with making money for Elovitch’s Bezeq.
Netanyahu has serious defenses for both charges.
Regarding the Bezeq prong, Netanyahu correctly points out that a range of non-political officials signed off on the new policies as legitimate.
As to the Walla! prong, Netanyahu can note that Walla! still published many negative stories about him, can argue that Elovitch wanted to please Netanyahu for his own reasons unrelated to Bezeq, and can claim that he only wanted balanced coverage in a media environment that is generally against him.
But most trials are not just won by legal arguments, but rather by people, meaning by witnesses.
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert was not sent to jail because of the mounds of documentary proof against him – though that evidence was important. He was sent to jail because his former aides and allies, Shmuel Ducher and Shula Zaken, turned against him and looked straight into the eyes of the judges and convinced them that Olmert was corrupt.
Both were close to Olmert and told of key moments when Olmert ordered or condoned their own criminal behavior for his benefit.
Filber will likely be that key witness in the future Netanyahu trial, and the conversation which was revealed Tuesday night in which he told the police about when Netanyahu gave him marching orders, will likely be that key moment.
There will be witnesses on both sides and the other state’s witnesses against the prime minister will provide evidence, but more mixed.
Former top aide Ari Harow is not part of Case 4000, and even his role in Cases 1000 and 2000 is peripheral to provide context to the broader story.
He also maintains a desire to be seen as loyal to Netanyahu and has not pointed the finger at him.
Hefetz has pointed the finger at Netanyahu, but is an enigma who may not hold up well under cross-examination, and it is known that he sometimes came up with ideas independently about how to act for Netanyahu’s benefit in order to please him.
Netanyahu cannot be convicted of any actions where Hefetz went rogue.
In contrast, until Filber turned state’s witness, everyone was wondering for years why he had acted illegally to help Bezeq without receiving a shekel in return.
Last night, the report told Filber’s story for the first time in a convincing and genuine way that is likely to resonate with the judges.
Filber did not claim too much. He did not say that the prime minister micromanaged him or knew all of the details. Some witnesses exaggerate like that and ruin their credibility.
But his story about sitting with Netanyahu smoking a cigar on the couch, his descriptions of the prime minister’s body language and of his directives to alter policies, but not too suddenly or blatantly in a way that would attract too much attention, sounded like vintage sophisticated Netanyahu.
He also did not say that Netanyahu followed up with him about every detail. Rather, he said that Netanyahu assigned Eitan Zafrir and Eli Kamir to follow up to make sure he would be “on deadline” with what he had been assigned.
Deadlines for Netanyahu, he said, mean acting with immediacy as if to desperately “douse a flaming fire.”
Crucially though, Filber made it clear that it was Netanyahu who gave the order one-on-one and that he knew all along that what he was doing would be a “national disaster.”
He described his telling the truth to police as emerging from “a blackout” in which he had suspended his moral judgment because he felt on a personal high to have gotten the role as director-general of a key ministry.
Filber, unlike Hefetz, is not a career man at spinning, and in his testimony to police he came off as authentic. His future testimony in court will likely do the same.
When he tells Tuesday night’s story in the future trial, that will likely be the legal knock-out punch that will decide Netanyahu’s future.