Government blackmail of targeted witnesses has perverted our democracy - opinion

Police made a case against Netanyahu by harvesting phone data rather than just listening to conversations as authorized by the Court.

 BENJAMIN NETANYAHU seen at Jerusalem District Court during his trial. (photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU seen at Jerusalem District Court during his trial.
(photo credit: RONEN ZVULUN / REUTERS)

After four elections, years of unelected governance and fiscal indirection, we now know how all this really happened to us.

A sitting prime minister was indicted for fraud and abuse of trust, and the way the police made its case against Netanyahu was by blackmailing designated witnesses. This is why they harvested the phone data rather than just listening to conversations as authorized by the Court. This was how they went about getting him indicted. The illegally tainted evidence is not the key: It is the extorted testimony that made all this possible.

Even a casual review of the recently disclosed interrogation of Shlomo Filber confirms that this witness was blackmailed to cooperate by a law enforcement cabal flaunting its total knowledge of all that he did and threatening to use all this information to the extent necessary. He was told that the world is all digital, that the authorities know everything about his life, with whom he spoke, communicated, what messages were sent, received, erased and when. Of course, we do not know what is on Filber’s phone and what he might have feared, but, as we all know, anyone can be stopped for speeding if the police have a particular interest in doing so. Were there stock tips, tax-related maneuvers, girlfriends, pictures or communication with divorce lawyers? Who among us never speeds at some time, somewhere in the course of our travels?

If Filber was extorted, it does not seem an excessive extrapolation to suppose that Nir Hefetz and others were also extorted. For example, how did the police know to summon Hefetz’s close female acquittance to the police station on seemingly trumped-up charges, just when Hefetz was being escorted between rooms? Hefetz’ was shocked to learn that his whole life was on the line and his testimony was soon forthcoming.

NOW, OF COURSE, a blackmailed witness might happen to tell the truth under oath. But the truth in matters of intent and motivation are not black and white. And a witness extorted can also knowingly or unknowingly color the truth, bend the truth, and simply imagine the truth. We cannot possibly know, and so the conclusion is obvious and unavoidable – a witness who is being blackmailed is inherently unreliable and discredited.

An aerial view shows the logo of Israeli cyber firm NSO Group at one of its branches in the Arava Desert, southern Israel, July 22, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)An aerial view shows the logo of Israeli cyber firm NSO Group at one of its branches in the Arava Desert, southern Israel, July 22, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)

The formal cases against Netanyahu are no longer even tenable. In truth, it seemed to me weak even before all this rotten corruption, manipulation and fraud was exposed. Naturally, I do not know the facts of the case in detail, but I believe the prosecution ignoring all that has been exposed as if it never happened would not have prevailed in the important parts of the case. Case 2000 (Yediot Ahoronot) is an illegitimate and dangerous indictment in a democracy. It accuses Netanyahu and Arnon “Noni” Moses of negotiating an economic advantage for Moses’ paper Yediot Ahoronot in exchange for favorable coverage. However, scores of MKs voted for the Israel Hayom law, which would have benefitted Moses infinitely more than the alleged Netanyahu action. Some, maybe many, maybe all of these MKs, were directly approached by Yediot Ahoronot agents or messengers to convince them to vote the right way. Should the criminal prosecution really examine press reports to determine if they might have been influenced by votes in the Knesset? Is this consistent with a free press, with a sovereign parliamentary procedure? As presented by legal scholars in the hearing before AG Mandelblit, it is clear that no other democracy on earth has ever brought this type of charge. And for very good reason.

The bribery charge in case 4000 (Bezeq) has not been fully litigated, but independent, untainted authorities recommended the government actions under question, and given the wholly unconvincing demonstration of net favorable coverage by the relatively unimportant news platform involved (Walla), it is very hard to project a conviction by an unbiased and relaxed court.

Additionally, what about the expensive gifts? Did the Netanyahus improperly receive and solicit gifts beyond the accepted norms among even generous friends and acquaintances? Perhaps, but no Attorney General would have prosecuted a sitting prime minister for receiving such gifts in the absence of bribery charges in this or other cases.

Whether the prosecution would have prevailed is now moot, because the fact of the matter is, no case would or could have been brought without state witnesses, and these state witnesses were blackmailed into testifying.

THE CRIMINAL PROCEEDINGS against Netanyahu and the others should be terminated and will be probably by the prosecution, with or without a token settlement. If not, they will be terminated by the Courts. If not, they will be terminated by public pressure.

One does not have to support Netanyahu to understand that what happened here is dangerous to our democracy and goes well beyond any level of police corruption one could reasonably have expected to find here in Israel. It not only undermined Netanyahu and his coalition, it distorted and skewed our election process, prevented orderly government and undermined our democracy.

This is disastrous not only because of what it caused, and not only because of the corruption, but also because we must now clean out the entire department from the ground up. It is particularly disastrous because the reform will weaken the police precisely when we need an exceptionally strong police: A police that can protect Jews from pogroms in Lod, Ramlah, Jaffa and Acco. A police that can protect Arab citizens and their families from wanton violence in Arab cities and villages; a police which can stamp out organized crime which routinely murders people on the street and which forces honest merchants and others to pay for protection.

We also need to make sure that our prosecutors do not tolerate illegal police and regulatory investigations, and are repulsed by the idea of using improper (let alone, illegal) testimony and evidence.

We have a real mess to clean up. But the gravaman is clear, the universe of culprits is well defined and the remedy straightforward. It will cost time and much money. It will require real determination and persistence. However, now we can at least get started.

The writer is an attorney in Israel and the US and founding president of the Institute for Zionist Strategies, which seeks to strengthen Israel as the democratic nation-state of the Jewish People.