The truth about Netanyahu’s trial: A response - opinion

Netanyahu’s many achievements for Israel and the Jewish people are certainly not in question. However, the legal question of whether there is sufficient evidence against him is a separate matter.

Nir Hefetz, with Shaul Elovitch behind him, arrives at the Jerusalem District Court last month for proceedings in the Netanyahu trial. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
Nir Hefetz, with Shaul Elovitch behind him, arrives at the Jerusalem District Court last month for proceedings in the Netanyahu trial.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)

In his article titled “Thank God there is a trial” (January 7), Ophir Falk attacks the State Attorney’s Office and the indictment it delivered against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Falk feels immense admiration toward Netanyahu, yet his comparison of submitting the indictment to the failure of Israeli intelligence prior to the Yom Kippur War (a failure that resulted in over 2,600 dead soldiers), and his further assertion that the trial “may be more consequential” than the war, are extremely disturbing.

Netanyahu’s many achievements for the State of Israel and the Jewish people are certainly not in question. However, the legal question of whether there is sufficient evidence against Netanyahu on which to base a bribery conviction does not and should not have anything to do with the degree of respect or admiration felt toward him.

Here, I wish to correct a few far-from-the-truth assertions that Falk stated as facts.

Falk described the beginning of the investigations as “phishing,” further claiming that suspects were interrogated about “rumors.” This is, simply put, fake news.

 NETANYAHU ARRIVES for a hearing on corruption charges at the Jerusalem District Court in November. (credit: Jack Guez/Pool via Reuters) NETANYAHU ARRIVES for a hearing on corruption charges at the Jerusalem District Court in November. (credit: Jack Guez/Pool via Reuters)

Case 4000, for example: Netanyahu’s investigation was initiated during a different investigation against Bezeq, in which Netanyahu was not a suspect. Only after Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua incriminated Netanyahu and supplied solid evidence to support his testimony, and after several documents and correspondences were found in Bezeq offices that strengthened the suspicions, did Netanyahu become a suspect.

Falk reminds us that the investigation of a prime minister must be authorized by the attorney-general. Indeed, it was. The attorney-general was in on the investigation from day one. Although the court criticized the attorney-general for not formulating an official decision to investigate Netanyahu, still, it was decided that this was a procedural error that is not fundamental in any way.

Falk continues to falsely accuse the state of illegally recruiting three state’s witnesses. One can guess that Falk is referring to Nir Hefetz’s testimony that a police investigator threatened that if he does not tell the truth his family will suffer. The facts of this accusation are being determined in court at this time. If true, there is no question about the severity of such an act, and, obviously, anyone involved should be punished.

But Hefetz does not claim that this was done while trying to convince him to be a state’s witness, but, rather, during the efforts to persuade him to give his version of the facts. Up until then, he exercised his right to remain silent. Hefetz testified that he decided to become a state’s witness regardless of the alleged threat, and, in fact, he signed the agreement after being released from prison and pursuant to a careful consultation with his lawyer.

The other two state’s witnesses, Shlomo Filber and Ari Harow, have yet to testify, and therefore it’s not clear what Falk is referring to. What is clear is that Falk’s accusations regarding them are unfounded, to say the least.

Falk continues to assert that the evidence against Netanyahu is “nonexistent.” Obviously, that will be determined by the court in due time. The court will have to decide whether the facts that led up to the approval of the Bezeq-Yes merger prove that Netanyahu and Shaul Elovitch had a deal in which Netanyahu committed himself to approve the Bezeq-Yes merger, in return for Elovitch’s promise to influence in a positive light the press coverage regarding him and his family.

That is the basis for the indictment and what the prosecution must prove. Many might not know that, by law, the gift given to a public figure that constitutes bribery is purposely undefined. It could be anything – a sexual favor, a monetary payment, a cowboy hat, or a commitment of a wealthy newspaper owner to influence news coverage of the public figure and his family. What defines the gift as bribery is the fact that the public dignitary wants it enough and is willing to pay for it using the powers that were bestowed upon him by the public. That is the essence of bribery.

Furthermore, the law states that even if the public figure is obligated by law to do what he does as payback for the gift, he is still committing bribery.

Based on the evidence that the prosecution holds and the testimonies that have been heard so far, here are some of the details that we can expect the court to ultimately examine to determine whether Netanyahu and Elovitch had a deal:

1. Elovitch desperately needed the approval of the Communications Ministry for various deals, one of them being the Bezeq-Yes merger, a deal that was worth close to NIS 100 million.

2. Elovitch failed to carry out the merger for over a year under then-communications minister Gilad Erdan and his director-general, Avi Berger, due to regulatory issues.

3. Netanyahu was desperately looking to get good press, which he deeply believed was needed to win the elections at that time.

4. Elovitch continuously delivered complaints to Netanyahu, through Netanyahu’s people (Hefetz being one of them), regarding Erdan and Berger. At one point he sent Netanyahu a regulatory related document regarding Bezeq-Yes. After reading the document, Netanyahu set a meeting with Elovitch, and they met two days later.

5. Elovitch became unprecedentedly involved in the coverage of Netanyahu and his family in Walla, and his interference in the content of the coverage was way and beyond anything that the Walla people who testified said that they had ever seen.

6. During his involvement in the Netanyahu coverage, Elovitch specifically expressed that he needed Netanyahu to advance his needs. To top that, the frequency and volume of Elovitch’s involvement in the Netanyahu coverage intensified every time Netanyahu’s signature was needed.

7. Netanyahu used the full weight of his authority to ensure that the Bezeq-Yes merger was approved. This included specific instructions that he gave to certain influential people in the ministry to work relentlessly to make the deal happen. Since these people have yet to testify, I will not elaborate on this point. I will just mention the fact that what Elovitch failed to achieve for over a year under Erdan and Berger – the Bezeq-Yes merger – he achieved in 20 days under Netanyahu and his new director-general after the regulatory restrictions that Erdan set were canceled. 

8. After the investigation began, the different parties involved (albeit not Netanyahu himself) moved to destroy any evidence of their relevant communications.

9. Contrary to the version of events that is being heard today – i.e., that, unlike Erdan, Netanyahu was all in favor of the Bezeq-Yes deal and therefore ordered it to be advanced – in the many testimonies that he gave during the police investigation, he told a totally different story. The court will have to decide which one of his versions is truth and which is not.

Do these events prove that Netanyahu and Elovitch had a deal? That’s for the court to decide. The details listed above clearly contradict Falk’s opinion that the evidence against Netanyahu are “nonexistent.”

Falk continues to imply that the prosecution offered Netanyahu a plea bargain. This, too, is false. The prosecution did no such thing. Unfortunately, fake news that is reported time and again eventually reaches the status of facts, to easily be inserted into published opinions.

The rest of the unfounded accusations that are in this piece will obviously be considered by the court, and we should all hope that the court’s findings will be accepted by the public, whatever they may be.

In this sense, I agree with Falk. Thank God that this trial is being held in a professional and unbiased court.

The writer is a former director of the Criminal Department in the State Attorney’s Office.