How damaging is Hadas Klein for Netanyahu? - analysis

If half of the stories she told about the Netanyahus were true, they would leave most Israelis, even some of his supporters, cringing.

Hadas Klein arrives to a court hearing in the trial against former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the District Court in Jerusalem on July 13, 2022. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Hadas Klein arrives to a court hearing in the trial against former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the District Court in Jerusalem on July 13, 2022.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

There is no question that former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not enjoy the testimony of Case 1000 Illegal Gifts Affair witness Hadas Klein.

The only question is how much did it damage Netanyahu in Case 1000 and how much in terms of his broader legal-political fate?

On one hand, Klein could be viewed as the most damaging witness to date.

Compared to other prosecution witnesses like Shlomo Filber, or even Nir Hefetz, she did not hesitate, did not substantively alter her story and remained steadfast under tough questioning from Netanyahu's defense lawyer Amit Hadad.

She did not attack the prosecution as both Filer and Hefetz did, reserving her attacks for Netanyahu and Sara Netanyahu.

 Opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu seen during a discussion and a vote on a bill to dissolve the Knesset (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) Opposition head Benjamin Netanyahu seen during a discussion and a vote on a bill to dissolve the Knesset (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Critically, she had many direct interactions with Netanyahu himself and can serve as a bridge proving that Netanyahu knew about a stream of gifts going to Sara due to his relationships with various tycoon billionaires.

Klein provided both significant quantities of detail regarding alleged illegal gifts and powerful anecdotes to drive home the message thematically.

If half of the stories she told about the Netanyahus were true, they would leave most Israelis, even some of his supporters, cringing.

Further, she could serve as a hammer to destroy Netanyahu’s alibi, that the gifts were given in friendship – see her telling of how her boss billionaire Arnon Milchan showed how superficial his relations were with the Netanyahus, ordering his staff to put up pictures of them just for right before they would visit.

It was clear that as soon as the Netanyahus left, he had his staff return pictures of Shimon Peres.

But Hadad’s cross-examination did still find holes.

Klein and Milchan had a huge volume of text messages with the Netanyahus which, on their face, seemed to suggest very close relations.

Hadad also showed that the Netanyahus gave reciprocal gifts to Klein and Milchan.

Maybe most critically, Hadad proved that one of the biggest motivators for Milchan to give Netanyahu gifts was not always a specific issue he wanted help with in return, as much as it was the feeling of power he got to feel by having quick and constant access to a head of state.

In one instance, Milchan pressed Klein to get Netanyahu pulled out of a session of the Knesset within minutes, and she indicated that such access for Milchan was not infrequent.

The problem for the prosecution would be, however unseemly, that there is nothing illegal about rich people giving gifts to politicians to get access and feel close to power.

Even the low-grade crime of breach of trust requires concrete conflicts of interest where the politician had the power to influence matters in favor of the rich person.

The defense may also succeed at reducing the amounts listed for the gifts if the prosecution can only produce receipts for portions of the gifts.

When Milchan testifies, he may tell a much grayer story, which could filter down Klein’s allegations.

And it looked suspicious that Klein, Milchan and billionaire James Packer all had many cell phones destroyed, with the police not pursuing cell phone evidence.

But after all of that, the fact is that there is no good motivation for Klein to lie and go after the Netanyahus.

Hadad tried to say that Klein was lying to protect Milchan, but at the end of the day, that still draws attention to the Netanyahus receiving gifts at an off-the-charts value on a regular basis for years while Netanyahu sought to help Milchan with tax breaks, a US visa and other business interests.

Netanyahu’s other alibi that he was trying to help Milchan as a major ally of Israel will probably not get him off the hook – even if it is true.

All of the holes, including if Klein and Milchan receive reciprocal gifts, but at a much inferior level in value, may be seen by the judges ultimately as side issues.

So what if the court convicts Netanyahu of breach of trust in Case 1000,

If that is the only conviction, it would probably not be enough for a finding of “moral turpitude” or jail time, which would mean Netanyahu could continue in politics. On the other extreme, if Netanyahu is convicted of bribery in Case 4000 the Bezeq-Walla Affair, he would almost certainly be out of politics and get jail time.

Convictions

A middle ambiguous scenario would be if he is convicted of breach of trust in both Case 1000 and 4000, but acquitted of bribery.

Some legal experts think two minor convictions would be enough to end Netanyahu’s career, but others think that even two convictions, if both minor, would be insufficient.

The panel could also split. Judge Rivkah Friedman Feldman, who also convicted Ehud Olmert, is most likely to convict. Judge Moshe Baram seems more sympathetic to the defense and more likely to acquit or convict only on minor charges with no moral turpitude. Judge Oded Shaham’s view is less clear as he is the quietest of the three.

Netanyahu could also still cut a plea deal, but after Klein’s testimony, the prosecution will probably stick to its guns of only a deal that ends Netanyahu’s career.

After all of that, there are still plenty more ups and downs expected when the court hears from Milchan, Netanyahu himself, Sara Netanyahu, Prime Minister Yair Lapid and a variety of others.