There is no other way to describe what has been going on in recent weeks in the field of politicians who have been indicted on criminal charges and have reached plea bargains with the Attorney General (Aryeh Deri and Yaakov Litzman) or are hoping to reach such agreements in the future (Benjamin Netanyahu). As well, the revelation by the economic daily Calcalist that for the last few years the police have been using sophisticated spying devices, including the controversial Pegasus spyware, developed by the Israeli NSO Group against numerous Israeli civilians, including persons involved in the Netanyahu trials. It is complete chaos and bedlam.
One doesn’t even know where to start describing what is going on and how one could start unraveling the mess. As with most controversial issues these days, how you view these developments largely depends on your political affiliation and beliefs, and especially whether you identify with the Opposition or the Coalition.
I believe that with regards to the police affair, there are at least two issues everyone agrees on. The first is the fact that at first, the various high-level spokespersons of the police lied through their teeth while denying out of hand the allegations made by Calcalist. The second is the fact that the police have been using spyware, designed and intended for use for security purposes and the prevention of serious crime in ordinary criminal or civilian investigations, for which special permission must be received in advance from the president or vice-president of a District Court, in the case of ordinary civilians, and from a Justice of the Supreme Court, in the case of elected representatives and officials. The judges and justices involved must, of course, be informed of the exact purpose of the investigation and the exact type of equipment which is to be used. Apparently, there have been massive breaches of these rules.
Furthermore, no one denies that these are very serious allegations that must be invested in depth. The culture of lies and illegal activities by the police at any level, but certainly at the top levels, cannot be tolerated in a democracy.
ONE OF THE questions that needs an answer is when the police acquired and started to use various types of spyware. As far as we have been informed, it began during the period that Yohanan Damino served as police commissioner, in the years 2011-2015, and intensified during the period that Roni Alsheich served as Police Commissioner, in the years 2015-2018. In other words, it all happened in the years that Benjamin Netanyahu was prime minister, though he apparently was not informed of this police activity.
However, we do know that Netanyahu was involved in peddling the Pegasus spyware among the Arab participants of the Abraham Accords when Trump was still President of the US, and that he must have known exactly what this spyware is designed to do. Now, he has discovered that spyware was used against at least one of the witnesses in his own trials – Shlomo Filber, former Director General of the Ministry of Communications, who served under him. However, it isn’t known whether the spyware used was Pegasus or whether any of the information attained from Filber’s cellphone was passed on to the investigators in case 4000. We shall certainly discover who else fell victim to these activities. On Monday, it was reported that the cellphone of Netanyahu’s son Avmer Netanyahu is amongst those meddled with as well and those of his former media advisors.
At any rate, Netanyahu’s legal team are considering using this new development as a reason to bring about a pause in the trial, until the full facts on the matter are revealed, and perhaps even as a reason to lift the indictment against Netanyahu altogether, should the findings warrant such a move.
The future will tell how this story will end. At the moment it is anyone’s guess.
Of course, the chances for a future plea bargain between Netanyahu and the State Attorney’s Office also depends on the outcome of this story. However, unless, as Netanyahu and his supporters hope, the charges against him will be lifted altogether (highly unlikely, but the future will tell), what will undoubtedly affect the chances and conditions of a plea bargain are the lessons to be derived from the scandalous conduct of Deri, after his own plea bargain went into force.
THE PLEA BARGAIN with Deri, which former Attorney General Avichai Mandenblit agreed to, included Deri’s immediate resignation from the Knesset in return for which he would admit to only two reduced tax offenses, pay a fine of NIS 180,000, receive a conditional imprisonment of 12 months and forgo certain financial benefits due to his service as an MK. In return for Deri’s voluntary resignation, it was agreed that the issue of turpitude would not be raised, at least at this stage, and that Deri would be able to run again in the elections to the 25th Knesset as leader of Shas whenever these will take place. Deri also stated to the Magistrate of the court before which the Plea Bargain was brought for approval, that he took full responsibility for his wrongdoing. The Plea Bargain was finally approved by the Jerusalem Magistrates Court on February 1.
Many felt that Mandelblit had been excessively lenient with Deri, given the fact that Deri had already sat in prison for close to two years (out of the three in the original sentence) on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust back at the beginning of the millennium. At the time, Deri continued to claim his innocence and that he was being persecuted on racial grounds.
At first, it seemed as though this time he would act differently, but then on February 2 – the day after the Plea Bargain was approved – Deri threw a virtual bomb at the law enforcement agencies, claiming in a statement he gave in the Knesset building that they had “publicly spilt my blood”. “If my name weren’t Aryeh Machluf Deri, the whole matter would have been settled at the office of an income tax assessor,” and as he had done 20 years ago claimed that most of the charges against him were baseless. He then added that even though he had resigned from the Knesset, he would continue to lead Shas and the Shas parliamentary group, which started to try to figure out how Deri could continue to attend the Knesset regularly, and even enter the Plenum as its employee – a plan that Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy will try to thwart. This was definitely not the intention or the spirit of the plea bargain, which Deri turned into something of a joke.
Now, the authorities are much more aware than in the past of the fact that too lenient a plea bargain in Netanyahu’s case could lead to a similar embarrassing situation to that created in Deri’s case, which means there is absolutely no chance the State Attorney’s Office will agree to a plea bargain that will not include turpitude, which will keep Netanyahu out of the Knesset and out of politics for at least seven years.
All this commotion is really not what Israel needs these days. Some peace and stability would be highly welcome.
The writer was a researcher in the Knesset Research and Information Center until her retirement and recently published a book in Hebrew The Job of the Knesset Member – An Undefined Job to be published in English by Routledge.